Wild Cards 13 : Card Sharks

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Wild Cards 13 : Card Sharks
The Ashes of Memory
by Stephen Leigh

    How did I get involved in all this?
    I'm not surprised at your question, given what I'm asking you to believe. Quasiman - you know him? He knows of you, but then I think everyone in Jokertown can say that - anyway. Quasiman gave me his tale. That's the real beginning, after all. With that and my background. I can visualize that horrible moment, but I wasn't there. I wasn't part of it. Not yet, anyway.
    But I can see it. I can ...
    Evening mass in Our Lady of Perpetual Misery on September 16, 1993, was packed. Christmas, Easter, and Black Queen Night: those were the three times that Father Squid could count on a full house. Half of Jokertown seemed to be pressed shoulder to shoulder in the pews or standing in the aisles, giving the interior a look not unlike that of a Bosch painting. Many of them were families, with children entirely normal or as misshapen as the parents. Imagine a shape, anything vaguely human or even not so human, and there it would be somewhere in the crowd; a lipless frog's mouth open in the group prayer, tentacles folded in some imitation of praying hands, slimy shoulders adorned with a new dress or faceted eyes gleaming as they watched Father Squid at the altar, raising a chalice to the congregation.
    Swelling chords filled the nave, a subsonic bass trembling the floor: that was Mighty Wurlitzer. MW, as he was called, looked anything but human. He had once been the choir director for All Saints' parish in Brooklyn; now he was a ten foot long, thick tube of knobby, sand-colored exoskeleton from which dozens of hollow spines jutted out. A vestigial head capped one end of the tube: two frog-like bumps of eyes, a slit nose, but no mouth. Mighty Wurlitzer couldn't move, couldn't speak, but the bellows of his lungs inside that confining sheath were powerful and inexhaustible. He could vent air through the natural pipes of his immobile body, creating a sound like a demented bagpipe on steroids. Modifications had been added since MW had been "installed" in the choir loft. Flexible plastic tubing connected some of his spines to a rack of genuine organ pipes, allowing Mighty Wurlitzer to produce a truly awesome racket. It might not have been great music, but it was loud and energetic, and no joker in the congregation would ever fault another for doing the best he could with what the wild card had given him.
    Mighty Wurlitzer sang and a wild music sounded, his voice a breathy orchestra. The jokers below joined in after the eight bar introduction.
    "Holy, holy, deformed Lord, God of Hosts ..."
    Afterward, no one was certain who first noticed. Someone in the congregation must have been gifted with a keen sense of smell in exchange for their warped body - the wild card virus has that kind of sick sense of humor. At least a few would have noticed that the odor of the votive candles seemed to be particularly intense, that there was a thin pall of acrid vapor wafting in, that the air was growing

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