I had a reason for driving up the ruined access road to the crumbling mansion on the hill. Nobody ever goes up there without one. My reason had to do with a book, or that's what I told myself at the time.
The real reason had more to do with a memorial card which had stayed stuffed in my purse's credit card holder through Cairo and Paris and Bogotá and New York, plus half a dozen other places that I could only keep straight by carefully organizing my notes and photographs. I'd actually never liked anything about that memorial card, but in almost two years I'd never thrown it away. Sometimes, I could feel it "looking at me" from its grave at the bottom of my purse, and even though I'd buried it, its gaze was always kind.
I could feel those memorial-card eyes on me as I slowly edged along what might once have been a driveway. It was a cement and turf obstacle course now, and I cringed inside every time I heard the underside of my rental car scrape and drag across a slab of up-tilted concrete.
I was going anyway. I was trashing my rental car anyway because of a book and a memorial card with kind eyes that could look through anything.
I told myself I wasn't crazy.
People tell themselves the stupidest things sometimes.
Eventually, the "driveway" became impassable, and I stopped. I looked around at the dense evergreen thicket that nearly made a tunnel over my car, and then up at the decaying mansion that now towered overhead. The great black building reminded me of a rotted skull with its eyes fallen in and its jaw left gaping open. It had been considered haunted for as long as I could remember, but now it was starting to look bad even as a hideout for a ghost--or a monster.
I did not get out of the car.
The air inside began to cool and the engine ticked in the winter cold. Uncommon cold, given how deep in the South I was. But then, the nearby town where I'd grown up was slightly famous for its uncommon cold, and its amazing, occasional flurries of snow.
Thoughts of the soft, beautiful snow of my childhood reminded me of the reason why I’d come, and I carefully dug through the mound of pads, pens, film canisters, and "traveler's necessities" in my purse until I found the card holder. I held the battered leather-bound rectangle in my hands for a long moment, feeling the weight of the sacredness inside. Like all things that hold magic, the memorial card only held its power if it was looked at infrequently, and during times of greatest need. Magic grows thin and wears out if you try to use it everyday.
With a single tug, the card came free. There was the picture of my grandmother--the picture I'd never liked--taken with a soft-focus lens and then manipulated somehow so that the edges of her seemed to fade into whiteness. It's possible the card-printer was trying to make her look as if she were glowing like an angel. I thought she looked washed-out and wrong. My Grandma would never have wanted to be a paper saint, and even at her most frail, she was never pale or washed out.
The printers hadn't messed with her face, though, and I saw the same soft, alert dark eyes I remembered. I ought to remember them--I see them in the mirror every day. Her thin gray hair and wrinkles had only ever been window-dressing. I was a grown woman before I truly realized she was old. I ran my fingertip over the fake-gold stamped letters that made up her name: Kimberly Boggs Gardner. I did not turn it over to see that stupid "Do not stand over my grave and cry" poem that my aunt picked out, and which my grandmother would have forced a smile and pretended to like, just to be nice.
I remembered the real Grandma, not the airbrushed-angel one, and thought about why I’d come to the haunted mansion on the hill. "She would want you to do this."
I took another look up at that hulk of a decaying house. I admit I was having my doubts. The book sitting next to me on the passenger seat showed that Grandma's best bedtime story was more than just a fairy tale, but that didn't mean she hadn't sweetened things in her memory. It also didn't mean that things hadn't changed over the many, many years.
What if I found the axe murderer some people said lived up on the hill? What if I found only a dead, rusted body? Or, most devastating of all, what if I found nothing, and ruined Grandma's beautiful story with a cold, thin reality?
A tiny fleck of snow, no bigger than the letter "D" on a dime, spun round on the wind and stuck to my windshield. I stared at it and watched it melt against the still-warm glass.
On the first of December, in Florida.
I put my grandmother's picture back. I didn't really believe in communication from beyond the grave, but something had just given me the final "come on" that I needed.
I stashed my precious book in my oversized purse and got out of the car.
The walk up to the house was cold and difficult, and I was glad I wasn't some fool who worked in pumps and a narrow little skirt. I'd have broken an ankle in the half-frozen mud before I was 50 yards from the car.
There was something disturbing about the hedgerows, too. They were very thick and unkempt, rising up ten or twelve feet on both sides of the driveway, and they kept my path in perpetual shadow. Icicles hung all over them, and made them droop into unnatural shapes. I kept on seeing what looked like faces, just out of the corner of my eye, but when I turned, the glints of icy eyes would vanish into the shadows of evergreen bush.
I began to doubt the wisdom of coming here alone. I hitched my purse up a little higher on my shoulder and hung onto the strap. It was a worthless fear reflex—instinct left over from having nothing to worry about but other people. But who or what was going to try snatching my purse out here?
The rattle-and-chime of icy branches blown by the wind seemed to provide a softly menacing answer, and I decided not to pursue that line of thought any further.
I told myself to shake off the lost-in-fairyland feeling. I hadn’t come to play Hansel and Gretel. I knew where I was and what I was doing there. I had only one goal: the house.
What a wreck.
The house had looked decrepit from a distance, but up close it was cracking, vandalized, burned in places, and open to the weather through a thousand caved and collapsed chunks of wall. If it had once had luxurious decorations on it, they’d long since fallen off. I didn't see a single intact windowpane in the place.
I kicked an empty old hooch bottle off the front steps. I figured that if there really was an axe murderer here, he either had very bad taste in "fortified wine," or else he wasn't too keen on confronting intruders. Apparently, even the winos roamed the place at will.
I kept that fact in mind as I slipped through the gap created by a partly-fallen front door. At first, I could see nothing but jagged, towering shadows. The only sound was the hollow moan of wind blowing through the cracks. I wasn’t sure if I was more afraid that there was someone there, or that there wasn’t.
“He’s hiding,” I told myself. "Grandma always said the whole crazy town terrified him into coming back to this place.” The man in my grandmother's fairy tale once had very good reasons to be afraid, so I could hardly blame him if he didn’t want to be seen.
Knowing that any "axe murderer" here might be more afraid of me than I was of him helped give me the nerve to walk a few more steps into the huge room. There were no lights to turn on, but my eyes adjusted quickly, and it didn’t seem so dark. Shafts of cold sunlight poured through holes everywhere.
Soon I could see that the crumbling room was filled with cobweb-covered parts and machinery, including near-human forms standing and lying everywhere. I think I might have turned and run from the "murder scene" if the diagrams in my special book hadn't prepared me for the truth. The "bodies" would be metal, stillborn products of a miraculous process that I still couldn't understand, even after a dozen readings.
I walked through the room with as much quiet care as muddy hiking boots allowed. Somehow, it seemed very important not to be caught sneaking around. I stepped over enormous gears that I had seen in sketches, and imagined them where they should have been, suspended by axles over my head. I lightly touched a bellows with rat-holes gnawed through its accordion-shaped middle.
Amazement soon had me gawking like a tourist, and I forgot to watch my feet. I was walking along, fascinated by the impossibly-high ceiling, when my foot knocked hard into something unyielding. The impact caused a dull wooden thud and the harsh rattle of metal.
When I looked down, I saw that I'd nearly tripped over a box. A large wooden box, filled entirely with needle-sharp blades.
The blades were all types and sizes, from pocket-knife sized to a scythe-like thing that was easily the length of a man’s arm. Many were dull and rusty from lack of use.
Some, however, were bright. Bright and shining and ready to use, as if they hadn't been lying there undisturbed for three-quarters of a century or more.
Had I stumbled a little harder, I would have fallen straight down onto them, onto the surgically-bright ones and the bent ones caked with rust. I looked at all those upturned points and felt cold inside.
Frightened, I called out the only name that might get an answer in that place.
If my grandmother’s stories were true, I was calling someone gentle, a protector and a friend. I badly wanted that old fairy tale to become real just then.
There was no reply.
I stepped away from the box of blades, keeping a much closer watch on where I put my feet. I tried calling again: "Edward?"
This time I sensed some kind of change in the room. Maybe it was the almost-inaudible rustle of a curtain being drawn aside, or just a change in the currents of the icy wind. Either way, I was sure that something had drawn close, and was watching me.
I spun around, looking, but there was no way to spot anyone in that room unless he wanted to be found. That room could have concealed a hundred fairy tale creatures, bums, or axe-murderers. There was really no way to tell which one had just discovered me.
My next words came out in a rush, and I prayed they'd work some kind of magic: "I'm Kim Boggs' granddaughter. I have something that belongs to you.”
When a strange, tense silence followed, I called out, “I won't hurt you--I promise."
Somewhere off in the shadows of the room, I heard a soft noise: the schink of metal slipping against metal.
The moment it was too late to run, I had an overwhelming urge to do so. What was I doing in a collapsing house full of sharp knives, where something was nearby watching me? I played a trick on myself that I used when I was doing story research in dangerous places. I told myself I could always run in one second. Wait just one second, and then see if there's something worth running from.
The next second didn't kill me. I played the trick again: wait just one more second.
After a few rounds of "one more second" I distinctly heard a footfall. It wasn't the clomp of an approaching monster or the drunken shuffle of a bum. That meant my options were fairy-tale man, or axe murderer.
I held still, already half-turned toward the door, when I spied a shadow just beyond one of the spears of sunlight. The shadow had not been there before.
It was man-shaped, but with some kind of wild, wiry mess on top of its head.
"Hello?" I called out timidly.
The shadow stepped forward and into the light.
I gasped. My grandmother had drawn Edward for me once. In her careful, amateurish picture, distorted by love, he'd looked something like a teenage boy with messy hair, who was holding a lot of sharp things in hands you could not see. He hadn't looked scary in the least.
Nothing in that picture, or anything I'd ever seen, prepared me for what stood there in the winter sunlight.
The man's face was unnaturally pale and badly scarred. If it weren't for the eyes, which held some kind of deep longing I had no name for, I would have guessed that face belonged to a wax dummy or a corpse. The hair was impossible--it defied gravity and aesthetics and common sense. The black leather suit looked like something out of a horror artist's nightmare or a fetishist's dream.
And the hands.
My grandmother had always, always, referred to those appendages as "hands," but they weren't. They were random collections of very sharp-looking blades, some of which extended nearly to his ankle.
I froze. The sound of gunfire and screams in the streets had never made me do that, but Edward did. Gun-toting Central American rebels at least made sense. In their own way, they were part of the scheme of things. This man . . . this man looked like nothing that should be permitted to walk the Earth.
Suddenly, I felt less judgmental about the long-ago neighbors who had driven him out of their world, and back into his.
I was in for another shock when he spoke. "Did Kim come?" His voice was soft, almost childlike, and filled with so much hope that it hurt.
"I . . . I . . . no. It's just me." It was the best I could do with adrenaline numbing my brain.
A kind of light faded from his eyes. "Oh. Will she come?"
I thought about lying to him. Maybe I should have--he wouldn't have known the difference. I didn't have enough of my wits gathered together to come up with a good lie, however, so I blurted out the cold, empty truth.
"No, Edward. She won't come . . . she's dead."
I had never before said anything that ended somebody's life. He didn't cry, or shout anything out, or even move. Instead, he just . . . stopped. It was like seeing a mechanical toy after its spring has snapped. For a moment I was afraid that I'd literally killed him somehow, but then his head bowed slightly. He was alive, but I could tell it wasn't the same life. I was sure it never would be again.
"I--Edward, I'm sorry. Somebody should have told you. I don't know why--no, I do. Up until just a little while ago, nobody really thought you existed. I didn't think so, anyway. I thought you were just a story my grandmother used to tell, maybe about somebody, but not about . . . about what you actually . . ." I realized I was staring at his grotesque hands. Feeling as if I were no better than those shrill, swarming neighbors, I shut up.
"She told you? About this?" He lifted one of his hands slightly and gave a couple of his fingers an experimental "snip." Those dark eyes of his were already full of so much pain that I couldn't tell if I'd just added betrayal to the burden he had to bear, but his voice sounded more worried than accusatory.
"She--it was a fairy tale she used to tell me when I was little. I guess I used to believe in it when I was a child, but you grow up, you start seeing the world the way it is, and you . . ."
One look at him was enough to prove that I was talking total nonsense again, and I closed my mouth. Apparently, I hadn't started to see the world the "way it was." And Edward, who still looked like a boy just out of his teens, had not grown up.
I tried again, and this time gave him the information that he probably really wanted to know. "She didn't tell everybody. Only me, that I know of. And I didn't tell anybody I was coming up here. No one's going to go looking for you. You're safe."
He seemed to relax just a little. He met my gaze again, and I think he looked at my face differently, as if he'd decided I was a person to talk to, and not just a threat to deal with. Then again, maybe he was just looking for traces of his lost Kim. If he was doing that, he'd picked the wrong grandchild. My hair is dark rather than red-blonde, and in general I look like my father's side of the family. The only connection most people can see is the eyes.
Maybe that was all that he needed.
He left his small pool of light and found another one a bit closer. His facial scars, which had seemed inhuman and horrifying at a distance, were worse when he came close. Now that I could see how sad and shy he was, however, the old cuts just made me ache for him. For the life of me, I couldn't imagine why I'd been terrified of him minutes before. He'd done nothing but let me see him when I called his name. Why had that seemed so bad?
"Did it hurt?" he asked.
"Did it—did what hurt?"
"When she died. Did it hurt?" His face remained as still as ever, but the pale sunlight picked out the glitter of grief in his eyes.
"No . . . no. She passed away in her sleep one night. It was very peaceful." That didn't at all do justice to the chaos her death had thrown my family into--complete with fights over the precise degree of awfulness that should be reflected on her memorial cards--but he didn't need to know that. I reminded myself to treat Edward as someone newly bereaved. It wasn't his fault that nobody had thought to tell him.
"When did it happen?"
"Well . . . it will be . . ." I didn't want to say it. Why hadn't we quit fighting over that stupid poem and remembered that Grandma had a lifelong friend who would want to know what happened?
"It will be what?" He seemed to pick up on my unease, and edgily moved to a spot just out of arm's reach of me. His arm's reach--not mine. For the first time, it occurred to me that he was more afraid of hurting me with those scissors of his than I was afraid of being hurt.
Ironically, the person who was going to be doing the hurting here was me. "It will be two years on the 20th."
His eyes went wide, and he seemed to be trying to sort out exactly what two years meant in his calendarless world. Then he turned abruptly and found somewhere a bit more distant to stand with his back to me. I couldn't tell if he was angry with me. I think he was crying.
"God, I'm sorry, Edward . . ."
No answer. I began to think he was mad at me.
When he finally spoke, however, he said, "Then she never saw."
"Never saw what?"
"Snow. For Christmas. I made it for her, but she never saw."
All I could imagine was the heartbreak of a man whose year revolved around sending a Christmas love letter, only to learn that his "gifts" were unopened and their recipient dead.
"But she did see it . . . she saw your snow for years and years. She told me about it . . . she said she used to go out dancing in it." I was almost pleading with him, although I'm not sure why. All I knew was that his sense of loss was catching, and unbearable.
"She said that?"
"Of course . . . of course she always remembered your snow. Did you think she'd forget it? Were you scared she'd forget you?"
No answer. His whole body was like a bowstring stretched to the creaking point, as if stiffness were better than quivering. I could guess his unspoken reply: Yes.
"Well, she never did. She even told me about you--not so that I'd bring in people to hurt you, but so I could remember you for her one day. And I did." Actually, it wasn't until that moment that I realized that this probably really was why my grandmother had told me that story about the boy with scissors for hands so many times. I'd stopped believing in it after a while, and half-accepted whatever the news said about my town's unusual snow showers. But even after I stopped believing, I never forgot.
He was silent for so long that I began to worry that he'd decided that it was too painful to talk to me anymore. Finally, he said, "Thank you."
I hoisted my purse higher on my shoulder and felt for the book's outline inside. It was still safe there, even after its long journey across the Atlantic. "I . . . didn't actually come here to make you sad. I brought something for you . . . something to help you."
If he responded in any way, I couldn't tell. I remembered how helpful the townspeople's "help" had been years ago, and hoped I didn't sound just like one of them. "It's not dangerous . . . nobody's going to stare at you or try to hurt you. You don't even have to leave this place," I assured him.
I still didn't get any sign of encouragement, but started to walk toward him anyway. After all, I'd made a career out of talking to people who didn't want to talk.
He stopped me with a question when I was halfway there: "What's your name?"
How had I not told him that? Had I expected the fairy tale man to know me at once, just because I'd known his name for so long?
"Julie. I write under 'Julie R. Carter,' but . . . actually . . . you won't have heard of that." In fact, not that many people outside a handful of travelogue magazine editors would have heard of me either, and suddenly I felt stupid for mentioning it.
"What do you write?" he asked as I reached his side. His face was still hidden by a combination of shadow and tangled hair.
"Just . . . stories about interesting people in interesting places. Mostly places far away from here." The familiar little "so boring" joke at the expense of my hometown fell flat for someone who was confined to an irregularly-shaped patch of land that couldn't have covered more than an acre.
"I've never been far away from here," he said earnestly, as if somehow I wouldn't know that.
"That's okay. You don't have to go far away to find interesting things." Fifteen minutes earlier, that would have been news to me. I'd gotten out of my mind-numbing suburban town as soon as I possibly could, and hadn't looked back in eight years' time. The joke was on me, considering that I was standing in what might have been the most interesting place on earth--well within bike-riding distance of the house where I grew up.
Since he wouldn't look at me, I stepped around in front of him. The blades that had terrified me before were now inches from my leg, but that no longer seemed important. What mattered was that there were tears on the edge of his jaw, by the corner of his mouth, hanging from a loop of hair partly covering a cheekbone. I think some of them had hit the old scars on his face, and been channeled off in crazy directions. He didn't seem to be crying anymore, but he'd done nothing to brush the teardrops away.
Instinctively, I reached up to brush the moisture off his cheeks. Just as instinctively, he reached up to block my sudden movement toward his face.
Quick reflexes on both our parts saved me from impaling my hand on one of his "fingers." Just a few millimeters more would have gotten me stabbed. For one frozen second we stared at each other. His dark eyes were round with fear, and I began to get a sense of how little of his fear was actually for himself . . . and how little of it was irrational.
"I think . . . maybe you'd better go."
"No . . . no, it's okay. It was an accident. No harm done. Accidents happen to everyone, right?"
"Sometimes they happen a lot," he warned me. As if to underscore this thought, he very gingerly tried brushing one of his tears away. Perhaps he was embarrassed to have me see him cry. If that was true, I ought to have left the poor fellow alone. He got rid of the tear, but ended up cutting himself below his eye. Now he had a trickle of blood on his cheek instead of a tear track.
Edward seemed to have the same physical reflexes as anyone else, and the moment he cut himself he tried to touch the cut, as if trying to assess the damage. I believe he might have put out one of his own eyes if I hadn't grabbed his wrist.
"Wait--don't. Don't, I've got it," I said. It didn't take me long to dredge some crude first aid supplies out of my purse. I live out of that bag for weeks at a time sometimes, and yes, I really do have some of everything in it.
He seemed uneasy about having me poke a square of gauze at his face, and kept flinching. Handing him anything was obviously not going to accomplish much. In the end I tucked the gauze square beneath one wrist cuff of his leather suit, and a ball of tissues beneath the other. He had some sharp things sticking straight up from the backs of his hands when they were in certain positions, so he had to hold them at very odd angles when he cleaned himself up. Or at least he tried to clean himself up. Mostly he ended up smearing the blood around. I got the impression that he felt good about being able to do something "normal" for himself, though.
Finally he relaxed enough to let me swab and butterfly-tape his cut. "There," I said with some satisfaction. "That one won't scar."
"It's okay. I don't really see the scars anyway," he assured me. "Nothing reflects here but water,"
He held his arm out is if about to remove the soiled gauze beneath the cuff, and then discovered he couldn't. His scissors were very sharp, and he just kept snipping the gauze pad into smaller and smaller shreds. The more frustrated he got, the less careful he was. Tiny gauze threads started floating in the air. Having seen the plans for him, I was pretty sure he had normal skin under that suit, and that he was going to stab himself again if he kept the snipping up.
"Stop. Stop! Just stop," I told him. After a few more exasperated snips he did, and looked a bit defeated. He'd managed to shove the gauze fairly far up his sleeve, and I had to use the needle-nosed pliers attachment on my multitool to pull it out. I got the tissue too, and dropped them both on a worktable thick with dust. There was nowhere else to put them.
I noticed how he looked at the multitool in my hand—it was as if he were recognizing a long-lost relative. I laughed at the discovery of my own “scissor hand.” Holding it out in front of me, I said, "Not so different, huh?"
He slowly lifted his own arm, which had quite a lot more than a set of pliers attached to it, but he smiled a bit just the same. Now our "hardware" was side by side. He snipped his fingers a couple of times, and I answered with clips of the pliers. We took a few turns playing at copying one another, with his snipping pattern getting more and more complex. Finally, I couldn't keep up any longer, and I conceded.
To my surprise, he didn't stop--instead he went into a kind of controlled frenzy with all his snipping--leaving me and my sorry little multitool act far behind. At first I was confused and frightened by the flashing blur of the blades, but I soon grasped that when Edward used his scissors as what they were--scissors--he was not clumsy or helpless at all. To the contrary, I got the sense that I was watching something between the work of a surgeon and a master pianist as he coaxed the blades through doing everything he could make them do.
I was in awe by the time he stopped. I think I might have been a little disturbed, too, if he hadn't given me a sidelong look with the first seed of mischief I'd seen in him. I realized that I'd just been suckered into being world-outclassed. I couldn't help laughing again as I tossed my shamed multitool back in my bag. "Okay. You win. You win times a hundred. You win times infinity. I'm never going to use scissors again without feeling completely incompetent."
He looked stricken for a second, as if he feared he'd really hurt my feelings. "Joke," I told him. "I have no problem losing a snipping contest to the world's greatest grandmaster of scissors."
That seemed to reassure him, and he asked shyly, "You want to see what else I can do?"
"I do--I do want to see, but let me show you something first." I'd carried my book all the way from Europe, and was anxious to show it to him, especially now that he seemed capable of absorbing something besides grief.
"Really, this is yours," I said, as I pulled the terribly-battered lab notebook out of my bag. "I got it from a man in France, who didn't want it anymore. It once belonged to his mother, who was a very famous scientist. She studied radiation and DNA and . . . things.” The Frenchwoman had won some prizes her family was very proud of, but they weren't proud of that book. Her son called it “alchemy.” He’d said it was nothing but the ramblings of an American madman who wrote his mother because he was lonely. Personally, I didn’t think the son liked it that she’d kept his letters.
I opened the flaking cover of the book, and showed Edward the picture pasted on the first page inside. His eyes went huge, and he reached for the page with his sharpened hands before he remembered to stop himself. The picture was a black-and-white shot of a middle-aged man with sharp cheekbones and a white, even-toothed smile. His hair was slicked back into a distinguished, receding widow's peak.
"That's the man who made you . . . isn't it?" I asked gently.
He nodded slowly. Edward stretched out one sharpened finger and moved as if he longed to stroke the image with a fingertip. I pulled the book away just before he sliced it. "That's--that's probably not a good idea," I told him. "I know you want the picture . . . you can have it--you can have the whole book--but let's keep it all in one piece, okay?"
He nodded again, looking at the picture as if mesmerized. Suddenly I regretted not finding a picture of my grandmother as a girl--the Kim that Edward remembered, and that she wanted him to remember. Too late, I realized what that would have meant to him. I didn't think she'd want him to see the paper-saint memorial card that my aunt had ordered a la carte out of the funeral home's showbook.
"Here . . . let me turn the page. We can turn back later. That's the thing about photographs--they stay the same forever." Edward seemed a little reluctant, but he let me turn the page. It was covered with the strangest collection of pen-and-ink sketches, illustrations cut from books, and handwritten notes, both in English and in French. Up in one corner was Leonardo Da Vinci's famous picture of a uterus cut away to reveal the fetus inside. Pasted diagonally from that was an ink sketch of a body with the insides showing. It was not a regular human body, or filled with regular insides. There were rivets, and gears, and strings and pulleys, and something that looked like a perfectly-cut-out Valentine's heart lying on the left side of the chest.
I tapped the drawing with my fingertip. "That's you," I told him. He stared as if fascinated, but this time restrained any urges to touch. "This writing around the edge is in French. I think it was cut out of a letter he must have written her. It says, 'You speak of playing God as if it were something wicked. Yet what else should any decent man play? Were we not made in the image of our creator, who started with a world of mud and clay, and left it a perfect garden? My dear, we have more than a right, we have a sacred duty, to imagine a world more beautiful than we found it, and to leave behind as much of that beauty as we are able.'"
Once Edward had pored over every corner and seam, he asked me to turn the page for him. I did him one better, and turned several pages, to the part that I really wanted to show him. "Look, Edward . . . you could turn book pages on your own. You could wipe your eyes if you needed to cry. You could touch people without worrying about cutting them . . . and you could leave the grounds of the mansion without being afraid. No one would hurt you for being different. They wouldn't know you from anyone else."
On the open pages in front of us were the plans for Edward's long-unfinished hands.
The inventor who created him had sent the designs to his friend in France, perhaps to ask for suggestions, or else simply to share the beautiful thing he planned to make.
I don't know what reaction I expected from him, but mostly he seemed shocked. He wanted to touch the pages again, too, which I tried to keep him from doing. "Careful--careful," I warned him. "It took all this time to find a second copy of these plans. I doubt we're going to find a third." He was persistent in trying to get one of his finger-blades under the page, however, and at last I let him.
He lifted the brown, faded book leaf very gently, as if to get a better look at it. I tried to imagine what it must feel like to hold such a precious thing in his almost-hands, after so much time and suffering.
Then, to my horror, he very slowly and deliberately snipped the hands-design page in two.
"What are you doing?" I cried.
It was too late, however--those flying blades of his had made confetti of the critical page before I could think of a way to save it without losing my fingers.
The snipped-up pieces fluttered to the floor, and he and I both let the book drop down on top of them. It seemed useless without the instructions on how to complete Edward's hands.
I was hurt and angry, not to mention bitterly disappointed, that my fairy tale man had turned out to be so destructive and ungrateful after all. "If you didn't want the notebook, you could just have said so. You didn't have to destroy it," I snapped.
"I want some of it," he replied mildly. "Thank you."
"'Thank you?'" I asked, appalled. "I go through the French Inquisition even trying to get that thing, for a maybe-imaginary person who I've never met, and then I carry it all the way back here to Spooky Mountain, where you practically stab me, and then you cut the thing into pieces. How does that add up to 'thank you?'"
I was mad at myself for choosing to forget the part of my grandmother's story in which Edward destroyed everything in the neighborhood he could get his blades on. Worse, I was mad at my grandmother for telling me the whole stupid story in the first place. Maybe Edward's dangerousness was the real reason she had never gone up to the old mansion to see him. It's easy to love a mentally-unstable person when he's shut far away, and you only have dim, rose-tinted memories of him.
My anger seemed to strike Edward to the heart. If he was a dangerous madman, he was not very good at identifying opportunities to take revenge. Instead, I got the feeling that he would have been in tears again, if he hadn't risked blinding himself every time he cried. "I'm sorry, Julie," he said very softly. I think I had scared him, and at the time I didn’t feel bad about it at all.
"Well, it's a little late for 'sorry,'" I fumed. "What the hell did you do that for, anyway?"
"I'm finished," he said, still in that soft, slightly-frightened voice.
At first I thought he meant that he'd been temporarily overcome with emotion, and had now come to see the foolishness of his act.
"Well, thank God for that . . . let's see what we can pick up. Maybe we can piece together at least some of it, and then find someone who can help us figure out the rest. Maybe one of the professors at the university . . ."
At about this point, I noticed that I was the only one crouched down on the floor, picking up pieces of paper. True, Edward's hands weren't so good for the task, but he could at least have stuck a blade point in various fragments, the way people do with pointed sticks when they pick up trash in the park.
"What?" I asked, glaring up at him.
"I told you . . . I'm finished." He sounded apologetic but certain about whatever he was talking about.
"'Finished?' I echoed. "Finished with what?" Suddenly I wondered if he were planning a suicide now that he'd learned of my grandmother's death. He hadn't seemed suicidal . . . but then, wasn't that what everybody said about suicidal people, after they'd gone and jumped off a bridge?
"Let me show you," he said, and began walking toward a massive winding flight of stairs. The staircase was "guarded" by what looked like an enormous, shrouded mummy, and I half-expected it to come alive and try to grab me as I passed, but it stayed as still as stone. Or, more likely, metal. The inventor who had once lived here seemed to have a fondness for creations forged from metal.
I followed Edward up flight after flight of uneven, winding stairs. In some places worn carpeting still covered the risers, and in others the steps were worn straight down to the gray wooden planks. In a couple of places the top boards of a step were simply gone, and you had to take an extra-large step over the long black hole. I couldn't imagine why anybody would want to live there, even if they had suffered a lot in suburbia.
I considered myself to be in pretty good shape, but I must admit that Edward left me lagging. All that climbing didn't seem to bother him a bit. My calves were burning by the time we passed through higher, more-damaged looking levels of the house, and I found myself wondering if I should re-evaluate my earlier feeling that Edward was as human as anyone, and just suffering from an unfortunate condition. The inability to get tired, to grow old, or to see why certain things upset people were hallmarks of machines--or of things from Faerie--not humans.
I wished I'd been able to see the other half of the correspondence between Edward's creator and his friend in France. What had she said to him about the dangers of trying to re-invent humanity, only better?
At last, we reached the attic--or what was left of it, anyway. One whole side of the roof had collapsed, leaving debris on the floor and a wide-open view of the valley below. It was sort of like a giant picture window, only without the window.
"Mostly, I live up here," Edward said. He seemed excited about showing me the place, even though it was a wreck and I was starting to have reservations about him.
"See the snow?" he asked, and nudged a pile of powdery flakes with his boot toe. I couldn't resist the urge to bend down and grab a handful of the white stuff. It was crispy, ice-crystal-like snow, not so good for the roads, but it would be lovely enough if it were sent drifting down through the air.
"This is where you make snow?" I asked somewhat doubtfully. The mold-blackened, collapsed attic didn't look like the sort of place that beautiful white flakes would come from.
"Yes . . . let me show you," he said. He walked over to an object that was covered with a ratty, plastic tarp. "I was worried it might rain last night. Rain's bad for the ice. It melts things and gives you icicles where you don't want them."
When he said "ice," an old fragment of my grandmother's story started to come back to me. An angel, she'd said . . . sharp blades making an angel take shape out of a block of ice.
Edward pulled the tarp off the object, and underneath was a perfect, crystalline sculpture of a family. It was a mother, a father, and an infant circled around a block with a U-shaped hollow in it, probably meant to suggest a cradle. Actually, I think the sculpture was Edward's take on a nativity scene, but he was clearly more interested in the grouping as a family than he was in any religious symbolism. The mother's translucent hands were perfect, and she caressed her baby's face with such tenderness that a kind of longing shone through the ice. The father stood behind mother and child, his arms spread in a gesture of protectiveness and gentle strength. When I drew closer, I could see that Edward had even inscribed tiny lines around the newborn's fingers and wrists.
"That's . . . incredible. I've never seen anyone do something like that in ice. I've never seen anyone do something like that in anything," was all I could think to say. I kept the instinctive “you’re wasting your talent here” lecture to myself. Even though many years had passed since he'd been the target of a pastel suburban witch hunt, I still couldn't see him walking into a typical shopping mall courtyard and knocking out quick sculptures of Santa and his elves for the kiddies. There were kids who were terrified of Santa--what were they going to think of Edward and his blades for hands, not to mention his unpredictability?
While I was looking at the ice family, Edward had been examining the sculpture’s base, and he seemed to have found a spot that didn't meet with his specifications. The next thing I knew, I heard the birr of snipping blades, and gouts of white ice chips flew in all directions. Some were caught by the wind, and carried out of the attic to fall on the tangled garden below.
"Is that how you do it?" I asked, in wonderment. My grandmother had said something about flying ice chips, but I couldn't imagine that Edward could fling so many of them so far that the whole nearby town would be under a soft white blanket by Christmas morning.
"Mostly," he said. He seemed to be concentrating on his work, and I think I had only about half his attention. "Sometimes snow brings more snow with it."
That made no sense at all, but I didn't try to make him clarify. I might be a nosy busybody by profession, but even I could see that this was one of those times where regular logic was not going to apply.
At last, Edward seemed satisfied, and stood up. He shook some leftover ice chips from his blades. He walked around the sculpture's front, and blew another ice chip off the mother's ear.
He moved a few feet back and said with a touch of pride, "I can make that. With my hands." He held one of them up and spread his blade fingers, which made him look as lethal and bizarre as any slasher film villain. Perhaps Edward had learned to love his hands, at least some of the time, but the rest of the world wasn't about to follow suit. America's "diverse population" hadn't become diverse enough to accept that. In fact, those hands would probably get him put on some government security list, and he’d be repeatedly chased away from airports.
"Edward . . . you make beautiful sculptures, and you make snow . . . somehow. But you cut yourself, and then you can't take care of the cuts. You can't dry your own eyes when you cry. You stay in here all alone, and I think you want something else." I looked over at the lovingly-carved parents and child, and saw that while it wasn’t exactly the Biblical manger scene, the sculptor had worked to capture the holiness at the heart of every family. Even a family as semi-dysfunctional as mine. It had to be mine, since my grandmother's girlhood home was the only family life he'd ever really known.
He stood still for a while after that, his head bowed, his heavy metal hands hanging down at his sides. I thought maybe he was thinking about the option of pasting those plans for human hands back together.
If that was true, he didn't say so, however. Instead he suddenly darted past me and hauled another plastic tarp off an indistinct shape in a different corner of the attic. This sculpture was only partly finished. It was a young girl's head and torso emerging from the block of ice, looking so easy and perfect that it seemed she might step fully-formed from the block at any moment.
Edward approached the statue solemnly. "I suppose I'll have to give her wings, now."
I didn't understand what he meant until I saw an eerie familiarity in the ice girl's features. She looked nothing like my Grandma Kim. I looked nothing like my Grandma Kim. But the ice girl looked like me. The eyes were colorless, of course, but the shape was there, and so was the curve of her nose, and the line of her jaw. The girl appeared to be dancing, and I was sure I'd never been so graceful in my life, but if there was any truth to the statue, many years ago there had been a young girl named Kim Boggs, and that girl had looked like me. I reached up, wanting to touch her cheek, but then drew back, for fear of damaging the ice with the heat of my fingers.
"You can touch her if you want," Edward said. "You miss her." I remembered how he had wanted to caress the photo of his creator, and soon found tears burning in my eyes. Edward wasn't the only one who wanted to touch someone--a real someone, not a sculpture or a picture--and was helpless to do so. As far as my grandmother was concerned, my hands might as well have been a set of scissor blades. All the longing in the world wouldn't allow me to brush her cheek again.
Edward made only little snips to the ice block while I was standing right next to it. He also stayed bit out of my way, as if not wanting to crowd me or my feelings. His quiet presence was comforting, and I wished I hadn't gone up and imposed myself on him when he was grieving earlier. All that had accomplished was to embarrass him into trying to clean himself up, and then give him a cut under his eye.
After the tears had stopped being so insistent and demanding, Edward spoke to me. "I'm sorry my sculpture made you cry, Julie. It wasn't supposed to do that."
For some reason, that made me smile. "It's okay," I said, wiping my eyes on my non-sharp or deadly fingers. "It's not a bad kind of crying. Sometimes when you miss somebody a whole lot, being sad for them makes them seem less . . . gone."
"I know." From the look of things, he actually was marking out where he'd carve wing shapes on the back of his young Kim sculpture.
I watched him work for a while, ignoring the chill that threatened to seep into my bones. At length, he asked me a question: "Is it the same everywhere?"
He'd lost me. "Is what the same everywhere?"
"You go interesting places and talk to interesting people. Is it all the same there? About missing people?"
"Interesting" is a matter of perspective, and I was tempted to tell him that in other places, grief was worse. All the hyped-up crime and accident reports on American TV couldn’t change the fact that the United States was a safe and privileged place. I’d left in search of lands that were less baby-proofed, and I’d found them all right. It seemed unfair to hit this naïve soul with the misery of poverty and war, though, so I just said, "Yes. It's the same."
"I thought so." After he worked a bit longer he said, "You're right that I get lonely here. And I hurt myself by accident. And sometimes I cry, although I try not to. I always end up poking myself in the eye."
The mere thought of that one made my teeth clench from imagined pain.
"I guess if I had hands instead of scissors, I could do all those things you said. But I'd still get lonely, and get hurt, and I'd still cry. And I wouldn't be able to do this." He gave the ice block an especially good snip, and sent shining white ice chips swirling everywhere.
"You're right." I said. Looking up into the impossibly-young face of the statue of my grandmother, something clicked in my head, and I finally got what she'd been trying to tell me ever since I was eight years old. "My grandm--I mean, Kim . . . in all this time, she was the only one who didn't try to fix you, wasn't she? That's why you can't forget her."
He was crouching down at the base of the ice block, and he looked up at me with eyes that were startled at first, but which quickly filled with more love and sorrow than words could express. He seemed to be waiting for me to say more. I don't think that Edward was good at explaining these things, and he wanted me to try saying the truth for him.
"Nobody else even asked you if you wanted fixing. They just . . . did things. 'For your own good.' God, you must've hated them."
"No . . . I didn't hate them. I loved the Boggses, and I did want fixing. I wanted the people in town to help make me good enough to belong somewhere. But . . . when I did all the things they said, everything just got worse and worse." He leaned his head up against the ice block, as if he'd become incredibly tired. "But Kim loved me even though I wasn't good enough. She loved me when things couldn't get any worse at all. After that, I had somewhere to belong, even if I couldn't go there. I had someone to make it snow for. I was finished."
"Finished . . . you mean 'complete.' Whole," I said.
"Yes. Complete. These help me make it snow, and make me complete." He held out one of his scissor-hands, with the blades fully extended.
"No wonder you don't want those artificial human hands," I said. If I'd still been angry with him for snipping up the book I worked so hard to bring him, I forgave him for all of it then.
"I'm complete with the hands that I have. I'm not complete without Kim. I don't have anyone to make it snow for anymore." He slid down the ice block until he was sitting on the floor, with his head bowed. His black thicket of hair covered his face. I really hoped he wasn't crying again. The poor guy would end up blind if he kept that up.
I was about to tell him that the whole town loved his snow, but then I remembered that people had "loved" all kinds of things about him, so long as his little tricks stayed cute and novel and didn't inconvenience them in the slightest way.
"I'm sorry about the hands thing. I didn't mean to insult you."
"You didn't insult me. I just didn't want anybody changing me around when I was already finished. Some people will try to do that, you know. Not you . . . just . . . people." I had the feeling he was thinking of some of his old neighbors down in the valley. Some of them would have held an exorcism over him if they could.
The afternoon sunlight provided no warmth at all, and the wind was high up in the mansion's blown-open attic, way on top of the hill. Edward might be able to stand that place indefinitely, but I had to get off that ice block and into somewhere warm soon. Before I even thought about leaving, though, I had to offer something to--or ask something of--this gentle man who had found himself incomplete in an unexpected way.
"Would you . . . if you still want to make it snow anymore . . . I'd be honored, if you'd make it snow for me." That had to be the strangest favor I'd ever asked anyone, and yet I felt guilty and improper for making it. I hadn't earned his undying love and trust the way my grandmother had. Just because he wanted to make it snow for someone didn't mean that someone was me.
He leaned on that deadly-sharp left hand of his so he could look around the corner of the ice block at me. "Would you really want me to?" Despite my worries, he sounded hopeful.
"Yes," I said, surprised at my own sincerity. I'd spent my adolescence mocking the pitiful trumpeting my subtropical town made over the light covering of snow it got once or twice a year. It's pretty sad when a place's claim to fame is its occasional weird weather.
Smacking your head over new streets named "Snow Run" or "Snowhill" (there are no hills in town either) is not the same thing as looking up in the sky and knowing that snow is falling just for you, though. Besides, I'd loved the snow as a child, especially when I believed it was magical. I wanted to forget all the cheap and desperate exploitation of the one unusual thing about my hometown, and go back to my first memories of snow.
"If you want me to, I will," he said.
On impulse, I reached out to take his hand. He jerked his blade-fingers away just in time, and I remembered that I couldn't hold his hand, ever.
"Careful," he said. "I'm sharp."
I settled for reaching out and taking hold of his wrist instead. "There. That's not going to hurt anybody."
We sat like that for some time, leaning against an ice block in the winter wind. It might have been a romantic moment, only it wasn’t like that. I had the strangest sense of being too late for something, the way you feel when you stumble on an old high school party spot hidden in the woods, two weeks after you’ve turned twenty-one. The magic of the shared secret is gone, and you realize that it was the secret-sharing you loved all along, and not the booze. The irony is that you get to keep the booze, but the secret magic is gone forever.
I looked up at the unfinished ice sculpture of the dancing teenage angel, and suddenly realized why my grandmother had left Edward the way she had—forever, at the age of seventeen. “It was perfect when you said goodbye to her, wasn’t it?”
He peered around the edge of the ice block and gave me a puzzled look.
“She understood you then, and she felt the way you felt. She didn’t look down on you or think you needed fixing somehow. She was just like you. I think the understanding stayed, but the feeling . . . it goes away, except for the memory. For most of us, anyway. She grew up and started a new life, and it could never have been perfect again.”
He looked very sad, but there was no faint look of horror or self-understanding in his eyes. I would have expected that from someone who had at least once left a former self behind.
“You don’t get it. Good for you.” Edward, with his scissor hands and his shining ice sculptures, would always stay at that age when everything is beautiful, and everything hurts. Maybe his designer had made him that way, as part of his plan to leave the earth a little more Eden-like than the way he found it.
“I always just thought she was scared people might follow her,” he said uncertainly. I got the ugly feeling that I’d shaken his faith in something critical.
“I’m sure that was part of it too.” I suddenly wished I hadn’t said anything about why his Kim had never come back. He wouldn’t understand it, and it would take something from him that he needed. It made me think of the words to the old kids’ song: A dragon lives forever, but not so little boys . . .
I always did hate how depressing that song was.
I decided to put my money on the chance that Edward had more grit in him than Puff the wuss-ass Magic Dragon. He hadn’t been designed to die along with his best friend. I stood up and carefully pulled at his wrist, urging him to get up too. “Hey . . . I’m going to have to get out of here soon, but why don’t you show me what other cool things you have around this place? You can’t carve ice all year ‘round.”
My enthusiasm got the luster of life to start returning to his eyes. “You really want to see?” He sounded as thrilled as a kid who’d been asked to show off his refrigerator art to grownup company.
“Sure I do.”
“Okay . . . this is what I do when it’s not cold enough for ice.” I kept hold of his wrist and he pulled me along with him, keeping his needle-sharp fingers tucked carefully inward toward his body.
To my surprise, he led me to the place where the attic floor ended in moldering splinters. A great frame of ruin was all that stood between us and empty space. Those rotting planks high above the ground weren’t a place I would have chosen to stand on my own, and I grabbed his arm with my free hand. He didn’t do anything like put a protective arm around me, but to be fair, he really couldn’t.
“I make snow for other people, but this I make mostly for me,” he said.
At first I had no idea what he was talking about. All I saw was wood that looked ready to disintegrate completely, a long, long drop into a thicket of evergreen shrubs, and far away the faint blue smudging of smog over a colorless suburb that was getting swallowed by its parent city.
Then a heavy gray cloud slid out of the sun’s way, and suddenly a sparkling of ice appeared on the curves and arches of evergreen branches below. “Oh, that’s pretty—“ I began, but then something about the shining lines made me look up at the smoggy almost-city again. I saw the familiar skyline, such as it was: the clock tower standing over the library, the spire of the church where I’d once gone to my best friend’s Confirmation, the half-barrel shape of the high school gymnasium’s roof.
Then I looked down again, and saw those same lines picked out in glittering green and shining white. It was my town all over again, only smaller, and better. Edward’s version had been made clean, with only the beautiful parts showing. It took a whole lot to make me goggle like a Bermuda-socked tourist, but I stood and goggled at that, growing more and more amazed as I discovered details in every overhang and shadow.
Edward hadn’t just copied the modern version of the town. He’d overlaid decades on top of one another, expanded some things and shrunk others. All four cell towers were gone, but a fake-Gothic hospital that had been torn down years ago still stood. Our speck of a park had been expanded into a stately, rolling green—the only neatly-kept-looking area in the garden below. He’d left out the city-county complex with its dinky police station and bunker-like jail. I would have, too. The materials of ice and shrub branches weren’t the sturdiest, and so the town all looked rather skewed and sideways, but that in itself might have been an improvement over tedious, prefab neatness.
“Edward . . . that’s amazing,” I breathed. “Why can’t the real town look like that?”
“To me it does.”
I looked up at him, trying to spot sarcasm or some hidden meaning in his still face and dark, expressive eyes. Everything I saw suggested that he was completely serious. In fact, there was a certain far-away peace in his expression, as if his miniature, beautiful town were helping to heal some wound he had inside.
“To you it does? Really?” I wondered how he could feel that way, given that the smoggy, cell-tower-spiked town in front of us was to blame for making him afraid to leave his sanctuary. Forgiveness after all these years might have been understandable, but beautiful?
Instead of answering my question he just looked over the garden with a kind of quiet delight. Maybe that was how his creator felt when he first got a look at Edward . . . not perfect maybe, and definitely not the same as “regular people,” but in some ways, better than regular. Wasn’t that what the old inventor had written to his French friend—that we had a duty to improve upon reality as we found it?
That thought led to a peculiar idea, and I looked back and forth between his shining, cockeyed vision town and the drab and smoggy real thing. “Edward . . . did you fix us? Is this how you made our town . . . better?” Never in my wildest imagination had I thought my attempt to change his hands might be like trying to cure a doctor of the healing gift that could make broken things better.
“I wish I could make everything like that,” he said, looking over his creation with a wistful delight.
I looked down at his uneven metal fingers and thought of the price he was willing to pay for his gift. “Thank you.” I didn’t know how else to express my feelings at seeing my town distorted and mixed up a bit, but still, at least in a vision, clean. And beautiful. “I wish you could make everything like that too.”
We stood like that, looking at the real and the made-up--which was also real--until my hands started to go numb. I wasn’t a long-goodbyes person, and I suspected that neither was Edward.
“I have to go,” I told him.
He looked sorry, but not devastated. “He’s happy here,” I thought, surprised. Not all the time, obviously, but then who said life was easy anywhere?
“Okay,” he said.
“Listen, if you ever need anything . . .” I fumbled for words and my voice trailed off. If he ever needed anything, what? Was he supposed to call me? Using what for a phone? And what for dialing fingers?
“Will you come back and see my garden again next year, if I make it snow?”
“I—yeah. Yeah, I’ll come back and see it again. Even if you didn’t make it snow.”
“I’m glad. Things are better if other people can see them.”
“Yeah,” I said, thinking about how I’d chosen to travel so I could show people things, in pictures and in words. The truth was that if I’d just wanted out of town, I could have picked another reason. Maybe next time I visited Edward, I’d bring some of my pictures. Cairo and Paris seemed a fair trade for sculpted ice and a make-believe suburb.
There wasn’t any fanfare about getting me to the door. On the threshold, he said, “Thank you for telling me about Kim. And for bringing me the book. I need some of it.”
I didn’t ask him what he meant by that. He might have been talking about doing repairs on himself, or about wanting to read the words of the first person who had loved him. Or both.
“Sure. I’m glad you like it . . . or at least most of it.”
We looked at each other. There wasn’t really anything else to say—or rather there was far too much to say, but it wasn’t the kind of thing that words were good for.
“See you,” he said.
He stood and watched me back my mud-covered rental car out of that nightmare of a “driveway.” Apparently, since he didn’t drive himself, it had never occurred to Edward that a circle shape would have been better. I was careful not to run into any of his evergreen shrubs. From ground level they didn’t look like anything, but that was probably the point. Nobody was going to catch sight of him or his masterwork unless he wanted them to.
Once I finally got back onto the main road, I just sat for a moment with my hands on the wheel. I’d been focused upon getting that book to my grandmother’s fairy tale man, and now that it was done, what should I do? I’d have to make my yearly command appearance at Christmas, but other than that I was free. My family had long ago been forced to accept that I was a wanderer by nature.
Where did one go after meeting with a magical person and his make-believe city?
Anyplace, I decided.
It didn’t matter if you were in Egypt or a suburb in Florida. It was the heart that made angels out of ice and small worlds out of overgrown gardens.
And you can take your heart anywhere.