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)

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