Today, The Legend of Intaglio comes to its astonishing resolution. You will be amazed, or relieved. It would behoove you, dear reader, to do a quick review of Parts 1-6 lest the in-jokes and other references to earlier scenes and characters sail over your head and be lost forever.
Or, you might have forgotten what this story is all about, since it’s dragged on so long.
Anyhow, when we left our intrepid hero, Intaglio, the animated, authorial marionette who’s “got no strings to hold him down,” he had been swallowed by a gigantic marine monster (a sea creature, not a member of the Corps) during an ill-fated attempt to escape the deceptively-named Total Freedom Island by swimming back to the Italian mainland. He swirled down into darkness, his fate uncertain.
And now, the conclusion…presented without accompanying illustrations in the electrifying three-dimensional brilliance of Your Own Imagination!
Intaglio drifted in and out of consciousness. He was in a dark, damp place, and voices echoed above him against a background of strange clacking and whooshing noises.
“I hate this. I was nearly dried out, and now I’m soaked again.”
“On the bright side, I think I’m getting better at holding my breath.”
“Speak for yourself. How is he?”
“I don’t know. Ah, he’s coming around. Intaglio? Intaglio, can you hear me?”
His waterlogged wooden brain found the voice familiar, and hung onto it for dear life. “Wha? Who? Papa Giuseppe?”
“Yes, it’s me, my boy. I’m so happy to see you. I’ve been searching for you ever since the University sent word that you hadn’t arrived.”
“Oh, Papa, I’ve been such a fool. I’ll find a job and pay back every cent of my tuition, I promise.”
“Don’t worry your little wooden head over that. The Chancellor is holding your place in next year’s class. He said it would be a shame for you to miss Rush Week, whatever that is. I thought you’d gotten lost on the way to school, or worse, but you’re safe now.”
Intaglio was wet through and barely able to move. He was lying on his back in a broad chamber shrouded in darkness. Faint illumination was provided by some phosphorescent material encrusting the walls and a small circle of light overhead. “You call this safe? Where are we?” His eyes began to adjust, and the silhouettes hovering over him came into focus as two worried faces. “Marge, is that you?”
“Yes, and I don’t call this safe either. This thing wrecked my raft and swallowed me. Giuseppe was already inside.”
The old cabinetmaker nodded. “You see, I heard a rumor from some orphans in Milan that you were searching for this awful island. I couldn’t afford the price of the ferry, so I borrowed a dinghy and rowed here myself. I’d no sooner passed the harbor breakwater when this contraption gobbled me up, dinghy and all.”
“It’s a clockwork mechanism in the shape of a whale. Something like a gigantic bathtub toy. I’m still trying to figure out how it works. The movement is simple enough…a spring-powered bellows pushes air through a series of pipes, making it move and pumping the water out whenever the jaws open. Can’t for the life of me understand how it knows there’s something nearby to eat, though.”
“It’s magic,” Intaglio murmured with awed reverence.
“Yes, it has to be magic,” said Marge. “There’s no other possible explanation.”
Giuseppe scratched his head. “But how does it stay wound? It would take a giant the size of a house to turn the key or whatever winds it up.”
“Magic,” Intaglio and Marge whispered in unison.
“Yes, well, anyhow, it seems to patrol the harbor continuously, swimming in a large circle. If someone comes to collect whatever it’s swallowed, we haven’t seen them yet.”
Marge shivered. “We need to get out of here before they show up. I’m not going back to that island.”
“Me neither,” said Intaglio. “I’m just glad we escaped before they turned Marge into a wombat and me into a tourist attraction.”
“And I almost didn’t make it out in time. I’ve got gray fur growing on my legs. I’ll have to shave every day if we ever get out of here.”
Intaglio struggled to sit up, but failed. “It was too late for me. My joints are nearly frozen, and it’s getting harder to think. I wrote too many lousy pre-formatted stories. I betrayed the Writing Fairy, and now I’ll never become a real writer. I’m nothing but a stupid, vain puppet who didn’t appreciate the gift she gave me.”
Giuseppe squeezed his hand. “Don’t give up hope, Intaglio. We’ll get out of this somehow, and I’ll fix you up myself. You’ll always be my son, no matter what happens.”
“Maybe we could ride out on the dinghy when the whale opens its mouth again.”
“There’s no way to know when it will open its mouth, and besides, we tried that last time.” Marge sighed. “The current rushing in is too strong.”
“What if we could make it stop swimming in circles? Is there a way to steer it? Make it go where we want?”
Giuseppe thought for a moment. “It’s possible. I think I understand the clockwork well enough to make the necessary adjustments, but we have no way to steer. We can’t see what direction we’re going. “
“What about the round opening up there?”
“That’s the air intake. It’s too small to fit through, even if we could reach it.”
“Use my head.”
“Use my head. Unscrew it from my body and lift it through the opening on a stick. It’s small enough to fit.”
Giuseppe’s eyes widened in horror. “No! Your head wasn’t designed to come off. I’d have to break your neck. It might kill you.”
“I’m nearly dead already. We have to get you and Marge to safety. Just do it. I’ve taken off my arms and legs lots of times. I’ll be okay, at least until what’s left of the life within me runs out. There’s not much time, and this is our only chance. You have to hurry.”
So, Giuseppe and Marge did as he asked. Marge lashed Intaglio’s severed head to the makeshift mast left over from her shattered raft and hoisted it through the hole. As Intaglio shouted instructions, Giuseppe fiddled with the air valves, gears, and cables that drove the clockwork whale’s tail, and they returned to the mainland and the decrepit port of Lucretia in record time. A few grizzled eyebrows lifted among the stocking-capped, striped-shirted seadogs sprawled about the dock when they emerged from the whale’s gaping maw (which Giuseppe had figured out how to open on command) and tied it to a convenient mooring post. After that, it was a simple matter to catch a ride back home to Giuseppe’s little village on a passing merchant’s wagon.
But Intaglio’s life was nearly spent by the time they arrived. Giuseppe carried him into their cottage, and Marge arranged him on the sofa as best she could. He was battered and twisted, and his head didn’t quite mate up with his neck.
“Wow, he looks like ten miles of bad road this time.” The cricket was perched on a nearby credenza, grooming his antennae. The observation was less than helpful.
As Giuseppe knelt before the broken puppet, tears streaming from his eyes, a blue glow flooded the room, and the beautiful Writing Fairy appeared in all her glittering glory. “Intaglio,” she sang out in a voice melodious as a choir of flutes, “You have been brave, selfless, and true. I will fulfill my promise and make you a real writer.”
He could barely manage a groan. “But…I betrayed you. I wrote…all those awful stories…trying to get rich. I didn’t… stay true…to the stories you gave me. Like I promised.”
“Oh, that? Intaglio, every writer produces more failures than successes. It’s all part of the creative process. There are many false starts, plastic characters, trite conflicts, and ill-considered plots. Sometimes you must write your worst to appreciate your best. I gave you life so that you might become a writer, and a writer you shall be.”
The Writing Fairy waved her wand over the jumble of parts that had been Intaglio. The blue light surged, and then vanished just as it became unbearable, punctuated by a puff of white smoke.
Intaglio felt an electric jolt of life surge through his body. He blinked and looked down at himself. His limbs were straight, and his joints felt like new again, but something was very wrong. “Hey! I’m still made of wood! You said you were going to make me a real writer!”
“And so you are. Did you expect me to make you human? Flesh and blood? Oh, Intaglio, you silly little puppet. Even magic can’t do that. Perhaps you can write a story about it. You have a wonderful imagination, if I do say so myself. Ta, ta!”
“Hold on! Wait a minute! My head’s still separated from my body!”
It was too late. The fairy had already faded away, leaving behind a wispy cloud of twinkling blue dust that set Marge to sneezing.
“Sheesh. Fairies. I always thought that one was a little flaky.” The cricket hopped to the vestibule of Giuseppe’s cottage and wriggled under the door. “Back to the lettuce patch for me. See ya around, puppet boy.”
Giuseppe picked up Intaglio’s head and straightened his little alpine cap. “Now that you’re not on the brink of death, I can fix this with five minutes on the lathe and a little glue. You’ll be good as new, son.”
“Thank you, Papa. Wait…what’s a lathe?”
Giuseppe ignored the question, which was probably just as well. He gave Marge a hug. “And what about you, young lady? You’re welcome to stay—I’m in need of an apprentice, and woodworking pays well.”
“Thank you, sir, but I’ve still got a writing dream of my own. I have a couple of cousins in Venice. Maybe I can find some inspiration there.” She turned to Intaglio. “Come visit me someday. My cousins don’t know diddly about writing, and they have no sense of humor.”
“I will. Goodbye, Marge. Thanks for everything.”
Marge gave Intaglio a little kiss on the cheek and went her way, closing the door gently behind her.
Intaglio stared at the door for a few moments, then squared his shoulders and looked up at Giuseppe. “Papa, I’m going to be your apprentice.”
“But what about your writing?”
“Even if I’m successful, writing doesn’t pay very much, so I’ll need a day job. Besides, I know a little something about wood already, and I’ve got the best craftsman in Italy to help me.”
“Very well, but you’re still going to school next September. Any apprentice of mine must know how to conjugate his verbs, backward and forward.”
And so, they all lived happily ever after. Most of them. Intaglio earned his Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree and became both a master woodworker and a master wordsmith. He wrote about the adventures of a group of children who traveled to a wondrous land of talking animals via a magical chest-of-drawers, and gained wide acclaim, though he had to write under a pseudonym because the world beyond Northern Italy wasn’t prepared to accept the idea of a living puppet. Most people assumed he was a semi-retired Professor of Medieval Literature and didn’t worry much about it.
Guiseppe got the son and protégé he’d always wanted, and they traded off writing his newspaper column, which gave him more time for his secret passion, fishing.
Marge eventually gave up writing altogether, and made a fortune in the cabbage market. She founded a charitable organization to encourage orphan authors and remained good friends with Intaglio and Giuseppe her entire life.
The children-turned-wombats recovered from their affliction once they stopped receiving the Coachman’s evil potion. They went on to become remarkably humble and circumspect members of society.
The Coachman was arrested by the Carabinieri and hoist on his own petard, so to speak. He spent the remainder of his life in the Naples Zoo as “The World’s Largest Wombat.”
The Sardinian gold miners took up musical theater and found it a much more satisfying pastime than reading fairy-tale mash-ups written by exploited children.
The ferryman still carries passengers between Lucretia and Total Freedom Island, which is now known as Wombat Island. It’ll cost you two gold ducats for a ride, what with the state of the economy. Hey, even a ghostly apparition has to make an after-living.
The cricket was last seen decimating the lush lettuce fields of the Po River Valley with his lovely wife and 6000 offspring.
Despite a year-long manhunt, Little Vinnie and Big Guido were never found, but it’s rumored they stowed away on a tramp steamer to Australia and founded a vanity press there.
The Writing Fairy heard about the broken carnival attraction in Sicily and brought all its puppets to life. They staged a revolution, escaped the carnival, and spread across the world, writing the most wonderful stories.
Including this one.