Mike Resnick's "Alastair Baffle's Emporium of Wonders" (novelette, fantasy): Description of an enigma
Here is an author that never disappoints. I've read may be a dozen Resnick stories & some of them are better than others, but there is none I will call bad. This one is pretty good. It's selling hope to the hopeless.
Key idea of the story is very similar to Adam-Troy Castro's "Sunday Night Yams at Minne & Earl's". A being with apparently magical abilities. Looks & behaves like an ordinary human, except when he doesn't! And never answers any question that would really identify him. Is he a god, magician, or an alien?
Full text of the story is available as a download.
Story summary.Morris Gold & Nathan Silver are two men in their 90s sharing an apartment at Hector McPherson Retirement Home somewhere in Chicago. They've been fast friends for may be 80 years, now awaiting the end. Nate is the narrator.
They'd met 78 years ago in a tiny shop called "Alastair Baffle’s Emporium of Wonders". Alastair Baffle was the owner. Shop sold magical tricks.
One fine day, they decide to break the confinement of their old age home. Go have a last look at the Emporium - is it still there? It has been may be 75 years since either was there, & there are good chances the shop is gone. But what's wrong with hoping it's there - may be still being run by a grandson of Alastair. Alastair himself, of course, would be likely dead; he would have been some 125 years by now.
They go out. Find the place is occupied by a shoe store now. Meet someone who knew the place, & knows it still exists - only at a new address nearby.
They go there. Meet the owner. After a bit of astonishment & wonder, they know it's Alastair who is still running the shop, & looks no older than he was when they knew him long time back!
Over the course of this visit & many following ones, they will have some of their old age ailments fixed by Alastair through what can only be called magic. Eventually, Maury is turned into a teenager by Alastair in return for promise of life long work for him at his shop - apparently a very long life ahead.
Nate refuses what he considers is slavery, but is still cured of his cancer. End is where he is looking for the shop, but shop keeps moving address - just ahead of him.
Fact sheet."Alastair Baffle's Emporium of Wonders", short story, review
First published: Asimov's Science Fiction, January 2008.
Passed the preliminary nominations stage of Nebula Awards 2007 in novelette category.
Nominated for Hugo Award 2009 in novelette category.
Added to my best of the year 2008 picks.