The Waking Engine

By: David Edison


There are more people to thank than there are pages for thanking. Every friend, every teacher, every obstacle, every encouragement: thank you.

In general, thanks to the patience and understanding of my family and friends, who let me be a gregarious hermit without (much) complaint.

In particular, I would not have written this book without the support of my agents, Loretta Barrett and Jennifer Didik, who signed a madman with three chapters and told him to come back when he’d written a book. Or without Paul Stevens, my editor at Tor, who bought, midwifed and championed the manuscript. Or without Christopher Michaud, who read so many versions of this book that he became a part of it. You are all partners.

Susan Grode and Nancy Cushing-Jones, thank you for connecting the dots that led to this wonderful career.

I reserve an enduring gratitude for the teachers in my life, and there are many: Bernard and Marilyn Edison, my first and best teachers; Carol Frericks, my second mother; Stacie Lents, dearest friend and first critic; Evelyn Pronko, who was right to tell me to pull myself together in fifth grade; Madelyn Gray, Carolyn “Lyn” Thomas, Charles Derleth (I didn’t forget) and Joanna Collins, alongside every other teacher at the John Burroughs School, the best high school in the galaxy; Lowry Marshall, who taught me to write on my feet; Ellen Kushner and Delia Sherman, wise friends and fairy godmothers; and my beautiful Lena, who needs no words to teach.


The room was empty except for the smell of disuse and a small woman with a heart-shaped face and a cloud of flaming red hair. She wore a thin dress that had once been a color, and no shoes. Her bright brown eyes blinked at the knives of light that cut through the slatted windows. Alouette is as good a name for her as any of the others she’s used, and Alouette began to smile when she looked at the crumbled molding around the ceiling. Thick fluid had begun to seep from beneath the plaster and flow in dark curtains down the walls; she stifled a laugh. “Oh,” she said. “The walls are weeping. It must be Tuesday.”

Alouette paced the room, tracing its boundary with her toes in the dust that lay heavy on the floor; she tested the wall with a finger but was unsurprised when it came away dry.

“The tears like to run down, don’t they? But don’t stay to play. Would ruin the effect, I suppose.” Alouette sighed and ran bloodless fingers through her bloodred curls. “You are so pretentious,” she said to the gurgling walls.

She shivered, but not from cold, and looked down at the circle she had traced on the floor, its smooth curve marred only a little by her footprinted meanderings—she walked on the balls of her feet and her step was light and, besides, the circle was a thing she’d intended to make, which made it more real somehow. Where Alouette was concerned, intent was everything.

Except for Tuesdays.

“Oh, oh,” she said, pulling a demitasse from behind her back. A thimbleful of bright green tea steamed within. “I do not want to do this. I do not mean for this to happen, but it will, and so I must cause it. I have to make a thing, because the thing will be made. Oh, oh, everything runs wrong on days like this.” She tossed the tiny cup out the window, spilt tea catching the light like brilliant-cut citrine.

Alouette rubbed her bare arms, feeling their softness and noticing without pride or dismay the whiteness of her skin; like the dress, it too had probably held color, once upon a time. A poppy-red ribbon tied around one ankle caught her eye, and she lifted her foot off the dusty floorboards, admiring the curl of satin. It was the only brightness in the room.

Yes, she liked this shape, and the feel and look of it. She liked the skin and the light bones; loved the hair, but then she almost always wore red up there. Alouette nodded, letting a little vanity into the room— she was only delaying the inevitable, but a strict discipline had never really been her style. She nodded: yes, she liked this shape for many reasons, but mostly because it felt the truest. If she’d ever been a true woman, she might have looked like this.

Squaring her shoulders to bring herself to attention, Alouette let them slump again as she studied the circle of clean nothing drawn in the dust of dirty nothing. She wished she knew why it was that great things, beautiful or terrible or both, so often stepped out of nothing to shake the worlds and raze the heavens only to creep back into nothing at the end of their day.

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