Sunday, December 26, 2004

Meet Joshua Wander, Part Eight

Art by Sherlock, adapted from an early draft of Rani's portrait.Joshua Wander's story is now too long to summarize here. Please see Part Seven for the story up to that point, and Part Twelve for summaries of the later installments. Links to earlier installments are at the bottom of each entry.

Part Eight: Ghosts

“Listen,” I said. “You can shoot me if you want to, but it won’t do anyone any good. “You can’t hurt me. You’ll only damage the wall behind me, and cost the University some money.”

“We have no intention of shooting you if you cooperate,” the female cop said. “Are you Christopher Joel Stein?”

“I was,” I said. It wasn’t a terribly honest or helpful thing to say, but it was partly true. The name belonged to another life, the one in which I studied physics and didn’t walk through walls or start fires with my fingertips. Syracuse didn’t seem real to me any more. It was a place to be observed and manipulated, like the mental playground of a lucid dream. Part of the game I meant to play involved keeping the cops off balance, and getting them out of the room so that Harry and Jerry could get into it.

The male cop stared at me, probably noticing, as Jerry had earlier, that I was more translucent than solid. “What do you mean, you were?” he asked. “You’re not a ghost or something, are you?” The female cop looked startled by her partner’s question. Then she, too, stared at me.

“Not exactly,” I told them, “but close enough.”

“Well, are you dead?” the male cop asked.

“No,” I said. “I’m just not quite here.”

“Then where are you?” the female cop asked.

I shrugged. “I’m not sure. Maybe I’m in Schrödinger’s catbox. Some state of quantum uncertainty, anyway. Hey, I’m getting tired of thinking of you as ‘the male cop’ and ‘the female cop.’ What shall I call you?”

The two cops looked at each other warily before answering. “This is Officer Farrell,” said the male cop. “I’m Officer Hennigan.”

“John Hennigan? Sean Hennigan? Angus Hennigan? Thomas Murphy Hennigan?”

Hennigan threw back his shoulders a little. “Tim Hennigan. Sergeant.”

“And I’m Officer Cynthia Farrell. Cindy.”

I smiled at them. “Pleased to meet you. My name, as you know, is Chris Stein, but you can call me Josh.”

(Although we never really became friends, I eventually got to know both of these people rather well. Cindy was fond of mushroom quiche, spinach salad and the O’Jays. Tim preferred sirloin and strawberries from Ponderosa Steak House, and the musical stylings of P.D.Q. Bach.)

“Enough with the pleasantries,” Hennigan said. “You’re wanted for questioning in connection with the death of Dr. Rachel Grayson.”

“Yes, so I’ve heard,” I said. “I’ll tell you what you want to know, but there are things I want in return.”

“You’re in no position to make demands,” Cindy Farrell said. “I think you need to come with us downtown.”

I shook my head. “Can’t,” I said. “Not unless we go on foot. The physics of my situation won’t allow me to ride in a police car.” It occurred to me that I hadn't made adequate arrangements to meet my friends later, in case my interaction with the police proved to be more than a brief diversion. Oh, well.

“Why can't you ride in a police car?” Tim Hennigan asked.

“It can’t carry what it can’t touch,” I explained. “Besides, I’d rather go to the lab. Are you coming?” With that, I walked right past the dumbfounded police officers and out the door, into the 11th floor corridor of Brewster Hall. Not knowing what else to do, they followed me. As I'd hoped, they didn't take the time to lock the door behind them.

Oh, yeah, that was fun. It didn’t occur to me until later that I’d come down with a slight case of insanity.

Jerry and Harry were just coming up the hall. “You know what I’m going to miss about this place?” I said loudly, ostensibly to the cops. “Rock and roll. I can live without the Stones if I have too, and even the early Beatles and ex-Beatles. But I’d hate to think that I’ll never hear Revolver or Abbey Road again.”

Harry shook his head and rolled his eyes at me as I walked past him.

“This is absurd,” Farrell said ruefully, as she and her partner hurried after me. “Nothing about this guy makes sense!”

“Well, it makes a kind of sense, but only in context,” I told her, “and you don’t know the context yet.”

“There is no context that could explain all this,” Hennigan said.

“Maybe not to you,” I said, “but it makes sense to me.” We had reached the end of the hall. Fire doors stood between me and the stairs. “Listen, I can’t use elevators, either. But you can follow me down the stairs if you like. Or you can take the elevator, and I’ll meet you in the first floor student lounge. Your choice.” Not waiting for an answer, I walked through the metal door, which clanged open behind me. Good. I set myself at a downward angle and started walking again. My trajectory mostly had me walking on empty air over each step.

“How are you doing that?” Farrell asked. I paused and looked back. She was perhaps eight steps behind me. Hennigan was two steps ahead of her.

“I’m not sure, but it works. Don’t worry about it. Look, I don’t know how long I’ll be here before I disappear again, and I have things to do in the meantime. You want to know what happened to Rachel, and an explanation about what happened to me that doesn’t sound completely insane. Am I right?”

“For starters, yes,” Farrell said.

“And I want to tell you these things. I’d like to hold a press conference, or at least issue a statement. Do you think you can arrange that?”

“We want a police statement,” Hennigan said. “We are not your publicists.”

“Fine. I’ll do it without you. Where’s Grayson?” I said.

“What do you want with Grayson?” Hennigan asked suspiciously.

“Are you planning to kill him, the way you killed his wife?” Farrell asked.

An angry voice replied. “What is wrong with you people? Haven’t you ever heard of epilepsy? Or waiting for autopsy results?”

I heard those three questions, the same as those cops evidently did. I thought they were great questions, but I didn’t say them. Nevertheless, the words come out of my mouth.

The voice that said them was Rachel’s.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Non-Mâvarin Fiction Entry: Meet Joshua Wander, Part Seven

Art by Sherlock, adapted from an early draft of Rani's portrait.Joshua Wander's origin story is getting too long to summarize here in detail, so please scroll down or check the links at the sidebar to read from the beginning. The not-quite-short-enough version of the story so far is as follows:

The willing subject of experiments conducted by two of his professors, Christopher Stein (the future Joshua Wander) develops an ability to manipulate the electromagnetic spectrum. In doing so, he disappears from the lab into another world, with one of his professors dead at his feet and two small medieval armies advancing on him from opposite directions.

Chris scares the combatants away with lightning, and recreates the conditions that took him out of the world he knew. He reappears in the lab, but he's not really touching anything or anyone. The lab disappears again, along with Rachel and her shocked and angry husband.

Next Chris finds himself in a cave. He ventures out onto the night and seeks shelter in a nearby barn, where he is greeted by the telepathic voices of the horse and cow who live there. They tell him that his coming was foretold. Chris accepts an invitation to sleep in the hayloft.

In the morning, a man who calls himself Onclemac comes into the barn. Chris introduces himself by the made-up name Joshua Wander, and is advised to keep his real name secret. Onclemac tells him he's in Angland. Onclemac himself came from Syracuse, having unwisely read aloud from a spell book. He invites Joshua in to breakfast, and tells him that "Josh" will be a wizard. Josh is unsure that anything he's done can be attributed to magic rather than science, until his experimental attempt to light a fire has obviously magical side effects.

After breakfast, which Joshua spends brooding about unfinished business in the world he left behind, Onclemac shows him the spell book. They use the second spell in it to get back to Syracuse together. However, as before, Chris/Josh can't touch anyone or anything there. Onclemac can: he's completely there as Josh is not. A friend named Jerry comes running up, and is shocked by Josh's translucence. Onclemac introduces himself as Harry MacTavish.

Part Seven: Can't Go Home Again

“So much for our not knowing each other’s real names,” I remarked.

“Harry” shrugged. “We’ll do a mutual protection spell later. Who is your friend, here?”

“This is Jerry Cronin. Jerry, meet Harry, also known as Uncle Mac.” Harry looked a little embarrassed at that. “I just met him this morning,” I added.

Jerry looked at Harry doubtfully. “I hope you’re a lawyer,” he said.

“It shouldn’t come to that,” I said. “I doubt I’ll be here that long.”

“You’re barely here as it is,” Harry said. “Did you maybe leave part of yourself behind in my study?”

I shook my head. “I don’t think so. This is the only place I can see. But it looks strange—I mean, stranger than usual, even by my standards. It’s all pale, and kind of shimmery. But there’s no place else behind it that I’m aware of.”

“What the hell is going on?” Jerry said. “Professor Grayson told the police and the press that you killed his wife and then disappeared, literally.”

This was pretty much what I’d expected Grayson to say, maybe not the part about my physical disappearance, but the part where he blamed me for Rachel's death. “That’s mostly true,” I said. “Our last experiment gave Rachel a seizure, and what I did probably contributed to that. But I didn’t mean to hurt her. I tried to save her, I swear.”

“But what happened to you? Where did you go?” Jerry reached out his arm. It went right through me. “Are you sure you’re not a ghost?”

I tried to smiled reassuringly. “Not the way you mean.”

“Do you think you can do something to align yourself to this reality?” Harry asked. “Would one of your effects help?”

I shook my head again. “I have a feeling that if I try, I’ll lose contact with this world entirely. I don’t think I’m compatible with this place any more. People like me aren’t supposed to be possible here.”

“Bummer,” Harry said.

“You’re freaking me out, Chris,” Jerry said. “Are you going to explain any of this to me or not?”

“Yeah,” I said, “but not right this second. There are things I need to do while I’m here, and I want to get started doing them. I’ll explain as we go.”

“Go? Go where?”

“My dorm room.”

Jerry made a face.

“What? Did they clear my stuff out of there already?”

“I don’t think so, but the police have been in there, all last night and this morning.”

“Are they there now?” Harry asked.

“I don’t know,” Jerry said.

“Well, we’ll chance it,” I decided. “I need clothes. My good jacket’s probably been impounded as evidence by now, but I can use my old one, and shirts and stuff. I wouldn’t mind grabbing that wizard costume from Halloween, while we're at it.”

Harry cringed.

“What about the police?” Jerry asked.

I shrugged. “It’s not like they can arrest me, when they can’t even touch me. Damn. That means I can’t touch the clothes, either.”

“I can carry them back for you,” Harry said.


“Assuming they don’t arrest me first,” Harry added. “I’m not quite as invulnerable to the police as you are.”

“Good point. Well, then, if the police are there, you two should wait until I distract them, and grab some clothes for me when the coast is clear. Can you do that?”

“I think so,” Jerry said nervously.

“No problem,” Harry said with the chuckle. He didn’t sound nervous at all.

“Great,” I said. “Let’s go.”

On the way to Brewster Hall, I did my best to explain to Jerry what had happened. Remarkably, he believed me. The average person probably wouldn’t have believed a word of it, at least not without compelling evidence; but Jerry had the evidence of his senses. It was obvious from looking at me, and from his failed attempt to touch me, that my relationship with the physical world had changed drastically.

It also helped that Jerry already had at least a vague concept of what the Graysons and I had been up to all semester. More than once he’d expressed concern at my growing strangeness, first when I mentioned the red aura around the D&D books and the blue one around the physics texts, and again when I made Jerry’s radio play one day without it being turned on. If seeing was believing, Jerry had apparently seen plenty.

“That picture of you in your wizard costume has been all over the local news,” Jerry told me. “Maybe even the national news. To hear them tell it, you and Grayson are both weirdoes and freaks. What would they say if they knew you really disappeared as Grayson said, or that you could do real magic? I mean, look at you. You’re not even leaving footprints.”

It was true. Jerry and Onclemac left footprints in the dirty snow and mud as we walked, but I left none. I couldn’t even feel the ground beneath my feet, although the mechanics of walking stayed pretty much the same.

When Jerry and Harry started down the hill next to Brewster, I found myself walking horizontally across thin air, like a character in a Warner Brothers cartoon who hasn’t yet noticed he’s just walked off a cliff. “Hey, look! I’m Wile E. Coyote!” I said.

I thought for a moment poor Jerry was going to faint.

Soon I figured out that I could get to ground level by leaning forward to reorient myself at a 30 degree angle. My feet still made no contact with any surface, even when I reached the ground at the bottom of the hill. It was disconcerting, but somehow it worked. Even without touching anything, I could still walk almost normally.

A few students I didn’t recognize stared at me as we approached. Maybe they recognized me from the news reports. Two police cars were parked in the driveway in front of Brewster. “I guess the cops are still here,” Jerry said.

“Yeah,” I said. “Listen. You two go in without me. I’ll meet you on the 12th floor.”

Jerry looked at me. “What are you going to do? How are you going to get in without the police seeing you?”

“I’m not trying to avoid them, particularly, but it’s pretty clear I can’t take the elevator,” I told him. “I’ll just have to walk up the side of the building.”

“I’d like to see that,” Harry remarked.

“Just meet me inside, okay?” I said. It would be safer for Harry and Jerry to walk in alone anyway, rather than stand outside and watch me, drawing attention to all three of us. “If the police are in my room, wait for my diversion, and go in when the coast is clear. I’ll meet you as soon as I can.”

“What are you going to do?”

I shrugged. “I don’t know yet.”

“Okay. See you soon,” Jerry said.

I waited until they were safely inside. Then I set out to reorient myself toward the twelfth floor. There didn’t seem to be any point in waiting to reach the dorm’s outer wall before angling myself upward. I set myself about seventy-five degrees from the ground from a hundred feet back, and resumed walking, aiming for the third window from the left on the twelfth floor. My sense of balance told me I was still walking horizontally, even as the world around me tipped crazily. Confusing. As I tried to sort out what my senses were telling me, I missed my dorm room window by a few feet, and walked through the wall instead. It was dark between the girders and wood and plaster, but I had an impression of electrical wiring, which crackled as I went through it.

Then I was in my old room at Brewster. Already it didn’t seem like home any more. Two police officers, one of each sex, had dumped my ragged green bedspread on the floor and were stripping the bed.

I couldn’t help it. I started laughing. “What exactly do you expect to find in my bed?” I asked.

Three seconds later, two guns were aimed at my head.

The Real Joshua Wander
Joshua Wander: Two Fragments
Joshua Wander Lives (the history of the character)

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Non-Mâvarin Fiction Entry: Meet Joshua Wander, Part Six

Art by Sherlock, adapted from an early draft of Rani's portrait.Joshua Wander's story is now too long to summarize in each posting. Please see Part Seven for the story up to that point, and Part Twelve for summaries of the later installments. Links to earlier installments are at the bottom of Part Twelve.

Part Six: The Book

I think it was Arthur C. Clarke (or was it Larry Niven? Robert A. Heinlein? No matter; I’m in no position to look it up) who said that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. Back in Syracuse, I’d assumed that my ability to produce electromagnetic phenomena was the scientific consequence of all those experiments the Graysons had conducted on me. But in this other world, where wizards walked, and animals talked in people’s heads, what I did seemed more like magic than science, especially considering the side effects I’d just witnessed. If I could do that, perhaps I could learn to do other magic as well.

“Food’s ready,” Onclemac announced.

I sat and ate, but my mind was hardly on the eggs and sausage. I was still thinking about what I had just seen and heard and done, and what it meant for my future. What I had experienced since Rachel’s seizure wasn’t a dream or a game, an odd D&D adventure with effects by George Lucas. Strange things had happened to me, and it looked as if they were going to continue to happen. My old life was over, but I was having trouble wrapping my brain around that concept.

What was most real to me—what weighed on me more than anything else—was Rachel’s death. I couldn’t do anything about Rachel now, especially not here in Angland. I couldn’t explain to Professor John, or apologize, or give a statement to the police. I couldn’t attend her funeral. I had killed her, and nothing I could do now would help her or John or anyone else back home, or even tell them how sorry I was.

As bad as I felt about Rachel’s death, I was going to have to deal with much more than that. If I couldn’t find a way home—or chose not to try—my life had just changed, drastically and permanently. I would not be doing my Algebra homework from now on, or writing that overdue paper about Romeo and Juliet. I would not be home for Hanukkah, with either parent. I would not be seeing friends or family again, ever. The sudden end of my matriculation at Syracuse University didn’t bother me much, but being cut off from everyone I knew was a different matter. What would they think had happened to me? Would Grayson tell people he’d seen me disappear out of the lab, like a character on Star Trek but without the sparkles? Would he say that I’d killed Rachel and fled? Would he say that she died by accident, and that the same accident somehow vaporized me so that there wasn’t even a body?

Well, again, there was nothing I could do about it if I didn't get home. Grayson would say what he chose to say, and I wouldn’t be able to refute it.

“You’re being awfully quiet,” Onclemac observed. “Tell me what you’re thinking.”

“I’m thinking I should try to get home,” I said. “It’s not fair to the people I left behind not to explain what happened, or even let them know I’m all right.”

Onclemac nodded. “I felt that way—at first. But I didn’t leave under traumatic circumstances as you did, and I didn’t have much family left by then. That probably made it easier to stay away.”

“Have you ever been back? Is it possible to get there from here?”

“Possible? Yes, if you’re lucky. I’ve managed it once, but I didn’t like it. I soon left again.”

“How did you do it?”

“Finish your breakfast, and I’ll show you.”

So I did, and he did. Hidden away in a small office full of worn, wooden furniture and an eye-popping assortment of books was a locked mahogany box with angular runes carved into the lid. Onclemac opened it with a small gold key, a series of taps and a muttered spell. Inside was an old-looking, thick, leather-bound book. The cover consisted of a simple design in gold leaf, including a single word in letters that weren’t quite the ones used in English.

And—at least to my altered sensibilities—it was glowing.

“Is this the book you found at Economy?” I asked.

“It is,” he said. “I know it looks like a prop from a Hammer movie, but this is the source of most of my magic.”

“I believe it,” I said.

Onclemac looked at me curiously. “Why do you say that?”

“Well, it’s glowing,” I said.

“Really?” Onclemac looked surprised, and rather pleased. “It doesn’t do that for me.” He opened it to the first page after what looked like a title page. “The pages on the left are spells. The ones on the right are sort of counterspells. They undo the spells next to them, assuming you survive long enough to read them.”

“How do you know what the spells do? There are no illustrations. Can you read the language the spells are in?”

“I’ve managed to decipher a few words over the years, but mostly I have to try a spell to see what it does, and keep notes on which one does which.”

“That sounds dangerous,” I commented.

“It is,” Onclemac agreed cheerfully, “but it’s usually worth it.” He flipped forward a page, and pointed. “Spell number two is especially helpful. That’s the one of language comprehension. I say it once for each new place I go.”

“Why don’t you use it to understand the book?” I asked.

Onclemac smiled. “I’d have to be in the place where this language originates for the spell to be useful. I haven’t found that yet. Even if I did, there may be a charm on the book to prevent such shortcuts.” He shrugged. “So I study, and when that gets too boring I experiment.”

“Do you think this book can help me get home?”

“Maybe.” He flipped back a page to Spell Number One. “This is the spell that took me out of the world I knew—and the world after that, and the one after that. Now, it seems to me that you’ve been doing that outward bound stuff just fine on your own. But what if you were to say Spell Number Two? It might take you backwards, without your even saying spell Number One.”

“And if it doesn’t?”

“It might do nothing, or it might send you to some other world at random, just like Number One. Either way, I’m coming with you to keep you out of trouble.”

“Okay, thanks. How?”

“I just need to be touching you while you say the spell. I’ll also be holding the book, by the way, so don’t get any ideas about absconding with it. Ready?”

I nodded. “I guess so.”

He held the book open before me. “Memorize Number One, first. You may need it. But don’t say it aloud yet.”

I looked at the left hand page. In half-familiar letters, it said, “Ba keep ooch ma vere.”

“Not very long, is it?” I said.

“Nope. That’s what makes it easy to memorize. As far as I can tell, it pretty much means, “Get me the heck out of here.”

I laughed, and read the other one silently. “Ba keep lor me fole.”

“Have you memorized Number Two yet?”

I read it through several more times. “Yes. I’ve got them both.”

“Great.” He shut the book and grabbed my hand. “Now say it.”

With the first word, light poured into the room to surround us, along with the book. A humming noise, like guitars plugged into overloud amps, began somewhere near my mouth and spread out from there.

As I finished the word “fole,” the room disappeared.

The next thing I saw was Crouse College, hulking over the rest of the S.U. campus in the December sun. Onclemac stood beside me. He looked impressed. So did Jerry, an overweight friend of mine from the D&D group. He came running toward us across the Quad, shouting, “Chris! Wait up!”

“Interesting,” Onclemac said. “You’re still not quite here, but I am.” He tucked the book under one arm, just as Jerry arrived in front of us. He was panting.

“Chris!” Jerry repeated. “You’re alive!”

“Um, yeah,” I said.

Then something extraordinary happened on Jerry’s red face. The expression of joy and relief drained away, replaced by one of horror and fear. “Uh, are you sure you’re alive?” he said at last? “I mean, I can see through you.”

“Told you,” Onclemac said to me. To Jerry added, “He is alive, though. Really.”

“Who are you?” Jerry asked. He was staring at Onclemac now, as well he might. The ex-optometrist wizard wasn’t exactly dressed for Syracuse in December. My sweatshirt was back in Onclemac’s front hall, but none of the cold of the snowy, windy Quad was reaching me. Interesting.

Onclemac stuck out his hand for Jerry to shake. “Harry,” he said. “Harry MacTavish. I’m a friend of Chris’s.”

The Real Joshua Wander
Joshua Wander: Two Fragments
Joshua Wander Lives (the history of the character)

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Non-Mâvarin Fiction Entry: Meet Joshua Wander, Part Five

Art by Sherlock, adapted from an early draft of Rani's portrait.The following except from JW's autobiography is unrelated to the Mâvarin books, except tangentially through an unfinished short story.

Part One: The willing subject of experiments conducted by two of his professors, Syracuse University student Christopher Stein (the future Joshua Wander) develops an ability to manipulate the electromagnetic spectrum, creating light shows and other effects. In the midst of doing so, he disappears from the lab into another world, with one of his professors dead at his feet and two small medieval armies advancing on him from opposite directions.

Part Two: Misunderstanding Chris's attempts to revive Rachel, the two groups of fighters seem as intent on attacking Chris as each other. Unable to overcome the language barrier to explain, Chris scares the peasants away with lightning, and manages to disarm an attacking noble as he recreates the conditions that took him out of the world he knew. He reappears in the lab, but he's not really there, not really touching anything or anyone. The lab disappears again, along with Rachel and her shocked and angry husband. Chris finds himself in darkness.

Part Three: Chris quickly realizes that he is in a cave. Despite the cold and wind, he ventures out into the night, crossing farmland on a dirt road under too many stars. He seeks shelter in a nearby barn, where he is greeted by the telepathic voices of the horse and cow who live there. They tell him that his coming was foretold, and offer to let him sleep in the hayloft. Chris accepts the invitation.

Part Four: In the morning, a who calls himself Onclemac man comes into the barn. Chris introduces himself by the made-up name Joshua Wander, and is advised to keep his real name secret. Onclemac tells him he's in a country called Angland. Onclemac himself came from Syracuse, having unwisely read aloud from a spell book in a used book department. He invites "Joshua" in to breakfast.

Part Five: Light My Fire

As I followed the man who called himself Onclemac (Uncle Mac?) toward a farm house with a tarred and thatched roof, I reviewed what he had told me. Like me, Onclemac was a former resident of Syracuse, New York, but we weren’t in Syracuse now. We were in a country called Angland, where magic supposedly worked. Onclemac had not reached this place by scientific accident, as I had, but as the result of a spell in a book he’d found. Or so he claimed.

The question was, did I believe him?

“Excuse me,” I said as we reached the man’s front walk. Instead of flagstones, this consisted of foot-long slabs of something that looked like opal. “You said something earlier about my being who you thought I was. Last night, your horse said my coming was foretold. Who and what do you think I am?”

“Pretty much who you said you were,” Onclemac said. We reached his front door of painted blue wood. He unlocked it with a small brass key and held it open for me. “Come in.”

“That doesn’t tell me anything,” I complained.

“That’s true,” Onclemac said. Onclemac’s front hall looked much like an illustration of Bilbo’s hobbit hole, except that it wasn’t round. It was all polished wood and round windows and a large stone fireplace. Onclemac took off his cape and hung it on a rack by the door. I decided to leave my sweatshirt on, but I brushed away some loose hay that still clung to it. In doing so I discovered that a few wires were still hanging from my head. As I pulled them off, I thought for a moment I could smell Rachel’s perfume.

I had no time to think about this, however, because Onclemac said, “Come on into the kitchen, and I’ll tell you what I know about you. It’s not much.”

“Fair enough,” I said, and followed him.

The kitchen had an oak table and three chairs, oak cupboards, and an herb garden on the window ledge. Onclemac got out some sausage and eggs to cook on his wood-burning stove, all the while talking about everything except what I most wanted to know. “There’s been some Renaissance action here, but not to the extent you might expect. Nobody’s even discovered America yet. There is a Leonardo in Italia, but from what I hear he’s mostly been inventing magical devices, not scientific ones. If it weren’t for the printing press and movable type, I probably wouldn’t stick around. I’ll be surprised if they have an Industrial Revolution at all, ever.”

“Why is that?” I asked.

“They don’t need it. Magic makes a pretty good substitute for science, as long as the population stays low and the society is mostly agrarian.”

I was getting impatient. “What does all this have to do with a prophecy about me?”

Onclemac turned the sausage patties before answering. “I just want to impress on you that magic is to be taken seriously in Angland. The laws of magic are as real here—and in several other worlds I’ve visited—as the First Law of Thermodynamics is back home.”

“How do you know it’s real?”

“I know because I’ve done magic myself. It works. Back in Syracuse I was an optometrist. Here I’m a wizard.” He pointed at me with his wooden spatula. “You’ll be one, too.”

“Again I ask: how do you know?”

“Spell 17.”

“Spell 17?”

“It’s my general purpose divination spell. It said that my apprentice would arrive this week from a place that is known to me. You’ll be here for three weeks, after which I won’t see you again for ten years.”

Finally I was getting answers, but I wasn’t sure I could trust what Onclemac was saying. “And you believe this? What if I don’t want to be a wizard’s apprentice?”

Onclemac spread his hands, palms up. “Is there something else you’d rather do?”

He had me there. “I suppose not. Can anyone learn magic?”

Onclemac shook his head. “Not one person in ten can do it. But you can.” He put the sausage patties on a couple of plates as he added. “You’ve already done magic.”

“Are you talking about my traveling between realities? That was science.”

Onclemac broke a couple of eggs into the iron skillet. “Perhaps it was, back in Syracuse. Here, it’s magic. So was your conversation with Ed and Elsie.”

“But other than Ed and Elsie, I haven’t done anything special here,” I protested. “I figured that the animals were magical, not me.”

Onclemac looked at me thoughtfully and nodded to himself. “Let’s settle this with a practical demonstration,” he said. He unlatched the metal door on the front of the stove, revealing three half-burned pieces of firewood. He muttered some words I didn’t understand. Flames died. Embers stopped glowing. Then he gestured to me. “Light my fire, Josh.”

It felt weird to be called by my newly-adopted name, already abbreviated into a nickname. I shrugged. “I’ll try.” Fortunately, there was plenty of sunlight in the room. I concentrated it and aimed it at the wood, much as someone might use a magnifying glass to set a piece of paper on fire. Instead of the controlled beam I expected, the light gathered at my fingertips and shot into the wood as a bolt of blue lightning. Fire sprang up all at once from every inch of wood, in the shape of an undulating female dancer. I thought I heard a few bars of a Jimi Hendrix song—both guitar and vocals—just before Onclemac slammed the door shut to avoid getting singed.

“That, my friend, is magic,” said Onclemac.

I nodded. “You’re right. That is magic. Maybe I am a wizard after all.”

The Real Joshua Wander
Joshua Wander: Two Fragments
Joshua Wander Lives (the history of the character)
Meet Joshua Wander, Part One
Meet Joshua Wander, Part Two
Meet Joshua Wander, Part Three
Meet Joshua Wander, Part Four