Giovanna wiped the sweat from her brow, smearing a thin layer of half dried clay across her forehead. She looked into the door of the cooling kiln, careful to only touch the handle. The bright yellow light within was finally beginning to dim. As she waited, she walked over to her work table and leaned against its messy surface, covered in tools and knives and rags for sculpting and shaping clay. The clock in the corner of her desk clicked along and Giovanna smiled at her notes and formulas. Her wastebasket was full of failed recipes that used to come more easily to her, but this, this recipe was sure to work. The roots she used to use had been wiped out after a year of blight and an unexpected cold snap late last spring.
Reaching for her notebook, she recognized the remaining wet clay stuck on her hands was slowly dehydrating in the heat of her workshop, so she walked toward the wash basin. With the cool spring water flowing across her hands she took a moment to look out the window, down the cliff and across the coast. Down the path, at the bottom of the cliff was the local community. At least half a dozen of her creations were living full and engaging lives with the rest of the population. It was hard at first. People were hesitant, but now they are just people.
Giovanna turned the valve, shutting off the spring water, and faced the clock. It needed repairs, for sure. It’s gears would occasionally slip, and the pendulum definitely wasn’t calibrated properly anymore, but it worked well enough as a timer. Her clay should be finished.
She stepped over a few tools strewn across the floor and towards the kiln’s valves and knobs. She let in a surge of brisk air from outside to speed things up. The kiln would still be hot for a minute, but she was too excited to wait. She put on a thick cloth mitten and opened it up, staring at the yellow glowing embers that surrounded her creation.
The clay hand had thick lines carved into it, forming strange and arcane shapes and forms filled with yellow herbs and dyes that took her years to formulate.
And the hand just sat there.
Giovanni frowned, wiped the sweat from her brow, and waited.
She grabbed a large set of metal tongs and pulled the hand out. Careful not to touch the thing, she set it on a ceramic plate on her work table.
She took her notebook and checked her recipe again. And the lines were definitely the right shade of yellow. She tried to scratch her head with her gloved hand, paused, removed the mitten, and then continued.
After staring at the solid lump for a solid five minutes with no new thoughts, she took the now cooled down hand and placed it in her pile of still limbs.
Giovanna was locking up her workshop, ready to take her evening journey back to her home half way down the cliff when she heard the sound of mismatched foot-steps and gentle cursing.
At a whisper in the distance, “You’re such a fucking idiot.”
Giovanna turned around and saw two young women walking towards her. The one who just talked was carrying half the weight of the other. Giovanna took a second to notice that the injured woman’s right leg simply ended at her knee, sharp and jagged. Giovanna gasped and the two women looked up and matched her gaze with bright yellow eyes.
Sofia gently set down the injured Angela on a bench outside of Giovanna’s workshop before addressing her. “Mother, Angela did not follow your warnings.” She pointed to the other woman’s ceramic shards jutting from her pants. “She was playing by the river again and slipped on a wet rock.”
Angela looked up to Giovanna and smiled sheepishly. Giovanna squatted down to look at the wound and then sighed.
Sofia continued, “Can you help her?”
Giovanna stood up. “Wait here.” She walked back into her workshop and stood over the pile of rejected limbs. She rubbed her chin with one hand while resting the other on her hip, then shifted her weight to her other hip. “I-I’m not so su—“ She turned around and saw Angela smiling as she leaned over to get a better look at Mother’s workshop. Her smile started small but grew as her eyes darted across the room until they landed on a small wooden pole.
Giovanna followed her gaze and saw the simple prosthetic sent to her by the craftsman from the woods just 3 days north. Ghost-wood. Maybe it could work, for the time being.
She grabbed the harness that wraps around the thigh, the wood dangling underneath and walked towards Angela. She crouched again and looked up to Angela’s curious eyes. “Sorry dear, but this will have to do for the moment. Now look away, I have to smooth the wound.” Giovanna took the sharp shards at the edge of Angela’s clay skin, and applied just the right pressure to snap the longer pieces off.
Mother took the harness and wrapped it around the leg now that the shards wouldn’t cut through the leather. “Stand up, see how it feels.
Angela did, clearly excited to try out her new leg. She began to run before tripping over. Sofia caught her and set her back on the bench. “Mother, I think it’s a little long.”
Giovanna took the prosthetic back, shaved off a few centimeters and came back with it now topped with a cork end. She reattached the prosthetic and before she could even talk, Angela stood up and was running haphazardly down the path back to town, laughing and shouting.
Giovanna turned back to Sofia. “Catch up to your sister, I have more work to do here.”
She walked back to her desk and took out a piece of paper and began to write a letter to the craftsman up north. After all, she heard there were promising properties to ghost wood. They just needed some work and experimentation to get working at their full potential.
If you like this story, or any of my other posts, please become a Patron, or share my work with someone else who might enjoy it.