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.”
Joshua Wander: Two Fragments
Joshua Wander Lives (the history of the character)