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.
Sunday, December 26, 2004
Saturday, December 18, 2004
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.”
“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.
Joshua Wander: Two Fragments
Joshua Wander Lives (the history of the character)
Sunday, December 12, 2004
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)
Saturday, December 04, 2004
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?”
“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
Saturday, November 27, 2004
Part Four: Onclemac
I was awakened in the morning by the sound of the barn door being shoved open, followed by that of heavy boots on a wooden floor. A voice – male, human – said, “He’s here? What do you mean? Who’s here?” The accent was somewhere between American and British, like that of a Scots or Irish person too long in America or vice versa. It was a friendly voice, matched, as I peered down from the loft, by a friendly face. He was about sixty years old, overweight and balding, and dressed in a blue wool Inverness-style cape. In his rectangular, wire-rimmed spectacles he looked like a younger Ben Franklin.
“Hello,” I said. “I expect they mean me.”
The man looked up. “Well, hello there!” he said. “What are you talking about? Who means you?”
“Your horse and your cow.”
“Ed and Elsie talked to you? Remarkable!”
I was astonished. “Their names are Ed and Elsie?”
“How did you come to choose those names?”
The man shrugged and smiled. “Long story. I’m called Onclemac. What shall I call you?”
Something in the man’s twinkling eyes told me he was inviting me to make up a name rather than give my real one. “Uh, Robin Hood?”
Onclemac shook his head. “No, I’ve met him. Try again.”
“Joshua. Joshua Wander.” It was my uncle’s first name, and the surname of some distant relatives. Besides, I liked the associations. The way I’d started hopping from place to place, I’d truly become a wandering Jew. And hadn’t the original Joshua also used waveforms to dramatic effect?
Ontlemac nodded approvingly. “That’ll work, assuming it’s not your real name.”
“Good. If you’re who I think you are, you should keep your real name to yourself.”
“Okay,” I said. “Why?”
Onclemac’s eyes narrowed. “Have you ever read A Wizard of Earthsea?”
That settled it. This man was from the world I knew, or something like it. “Yes, I have.”
I digested this. In the Le Guin books, a character’s true name could be used against him magically. “You’re not from around here, are you?” I asked.
Onclemac grinned. “Neither are you.”
“How did you know?”
“Well, for one thing, you’re wearing an S.U. sweatshirt. For another, you’re speaking American English.”
“So are you.”
“Well, yes, but the people outside this barn do not.”
I nodded. “I was beginning to suspect that. Where am I?”
“Similar, but not quite the same. So where are you from, exactly?”
“Dewitt, New York, originally. Yesterday I was a student at Syracuse University.”
Onclemac laughed. “Figures. Have you ever been to Economy Books downtown?”
“Sure. Lots of times.”
“I disappeared out of the Economy Books basement, five years ago.”
“I read out loud from a spell book, just sounding out what seemed like nonsense words.” He shrugged. “Stupid thing to do, really. What about you? How did you get here?”
“I think I kind of did it to myself.” I explained about the experiments, and the electromagnetic lightshows that had sent me from lab to battlefield, from battlefield to lab to the caverns near Onclemac’s barn. It felt good to talk to someone who seemed to understand my situation. “I didn’t set out to leave the lab the second time, but I wasn’t quite in phase with it or something. Maybe I can’t really go back.”
Onclemac nodded. “Maybe not. Do you want to?”
I thought about this. “Well, I’d like my parents and friends to know I’m alive, but other than that, no, not really. I’d be in a terrible mess if I went back, because of Rachel.”
“Probably,” Onclemac agreed.
“What’s it like here? Did you manage to hang onto that spell book? Is magic real here?”
“It’s peaceful but interesting, yes I did, and yes it is. Are you hungry?”
I nodded. “Starved.”
“Come in to breakfast, then. After that I’ll show you the secret of my success.”
“Okay. Thanks.” I climbed down the ladder, adding silently, “And thanks again, Ed and Elsie.”
“Any time,” the cow answered silently. The horse just snorted.
I followed my human benefactor out of the barn.
Meet Joshua Wander, Part One
Meet Joshua Wander, Part Two
Meet Joshua Wander, Part Three
Meet Joshua Wander, Part Five
Sunday, November 21, 2004
Wherever I was, it was night, and too dark to see anything. Unlike the lab, though, I was really there, all the way. The ground beneath my cheap winter boots was hard and uneven, like natural stone. Wind was blowing noisily somewhere nearby, but it wasn't reaching me. This was lucky, because wherever I was, it was winter-cold, Syracuse cold. I still had on a couple of layers of clothing - a Wings T-shirt and a navy S.U. sweatshirt - but my down jacket was back in the lab. Well, I'd just have to do without it. Maybe forever. As angry as Professor Grayson had looked, the lab didn't exactly seem like a safe place to go back to, even if I figured out how to do it. And anyway, I wasn't at all sure I could generate any weird electromagnetic effects to get me home, not from this damp, dark place.
The wind was coming from the same direction as a slight lessening of the darkness, somewhere off to my left. It probably wouldn't hurt to explore a little, as long as I mostly stayed out of the wind. I felt my way along wet, lichen-covered walls of stone, running my fingers and my feet over bumps and indentations, dripping grottos and sharp bits of crystal. I thought about a family trip to Howe Caverns, many years before, and about Injun Joe's cave in Tom Sawyer. The passage I was in wasn't especially narrow, though, and it didn't seem terribly dangerous. No yawning chasms opened beneath my feet; no cave-ins blocked my way. Soon I was at the mouth of the cave - a mouth of it, anyway. The opening was about seven feet high. A wall of rock extended another twenty feet or so on my left, blocking the worst of the wind. Loking up into the night sky, I couldn't see the moon, but there were hundreds of stars, obscured in places by fast-moving clouds.
It was the sky I knew, and yet not quite the same. I found Orion, and the Big Dipper, and Cassiopeia; but there were far too many stars in them, and in between them. Every tiny star that was normally dimmed by city lights shone for me that night. There were no city lights. Ahead of me was countryside: grassy hills, a field that might be post-harvest stalks of corn, a small forest, or possibly an orchard, and a few buildings in the distance: a farmhouse, maybe, and a barn or a stable. Clean snow lay on the ground in crusty, half-melted patches. The way to the buildings was marked by what looked like a dirt road. There were no street lights, no manmade lights of any kind.
Option one: I could wait in the cave until morning. It was cold, but not so cold that I couldn't manage for a few hours. In the morning I could scout things out properly, and use the daylight to practice my new abilities, to defend myself if necessary, or to try to travel again to some other time or place or world. Option two: I could venture out now, take shelter in the barn or stable, or even knock at the door if I saw evidence that the people here spoke English, or even French or Spanish. I'd struggled in my foreign language classes, but I did know enough to get by in an emergency--which this was.
I decided to get a better look around, so I could make an informed decision. If this was somewhere in the modern world, I might find a street sign or a mailbox, something to tell me whether it was possible to get home from here. If I was in the past, or someplace even stranger, there ought to be evidence of that instead.
The wind picked up as I stepped out of the cave. I crossed my arms inside my sweatshirt for warmth and started walking. The nearby road was grassy and full of rocks, a pair of muddy tracks too narrow for a truck or even a large car. It was utterly deserted. The moon rose behind the cave as I got far enough away. It was half full. The barn, when I got to it, had a thatched roof. That settled it. This wasn't New York State as I knew it. Was I in the past, or in England, or someplace else entirely?
Now that I was within a few feet of the barn, it seemed silly to retreat to the cave, regardless or where and when I was overall. I found the large iron ring that served as a handle on the wooden door, and pulled it open. It was as dark inside as out, if not darker, but it was warmer, and filled with the smell of hay and animals.
"Close the door!" said a voice. I stepped inside and pulled the door shut. "It gets cold enough as it is, without you standing around gawking with the door open," the voice said. I wasn't quite sure whether the words had been spoken aloud, or inside my head. There was also a whiny, whinnying, snuffling quality to them, more animal than human.
"Sorry," I said. "I didn't know anyone was in here."
The sound I heard next--and this was definitely a sound--was halfway between neighing and laughter. This was quickly followed by the equally extraordinary mooing chuckle of a laughing cow. So help me, a laughing cow. La Vache Qui Rit.
"What did you think a barn was for, just storing hay?" asked the voice. "We live here."
"Am I speaking to a horse?" I asked. "A talking horse?" Childhood memories of Mr. Ed almost made me choke on my words.
"No, just a telepathic one. Make yourself comfortable, wizard. Your coming was foretold to us."
"A wizard? You think I'm a wizard?"
The horse snorted, apparently in amusement. "Maybe not yet," it said, "but you will be."
"What makes you think I'm going to be a wizard?" I asked. It occurred to me that, in a world of telepathic livestock, my electromagnetic manipulations might well be seen as magic.
"The prophecy, of course," said the horse. "Look, human, I don't know what it's like where you come from, but around here we like to sleep at night. Morning will be soon enough for your questions."
"Okay, but where do I sleep? I can't see a thing in here, and I don't want to be in your way." I also didn't want to be stepped on in the middle of the night.
"There's a ladder about ten steps in front of you," said the cow. Her "voice" was melodic and motherly. "It leads up to the hayloft. That should be comfortable enough, and you definitely won't get stepped on." The cow laughed again. I wondered whether the animals were "hearing" even the words I left unspoken.
"Thank you," I said. I stepped forward, feeling my way in the dark. The cow's stall was on my left, judging from the sounds and the smells. The horse's stall was on my right. Beyond them I found the ladder: not quite vertical, made of sturdy wood and bolted in place. It hardly moved as I climbed to the top and felt my way onto the loft. The ladder came up through a small hole in the middle of it. I crawled well away from the hole and from the railing at the end of the loft, back against the wall. The hay was soft and sweet-smelling, more strewn than stacked or bailed. I lay down and burrowed in. To my own surprise, I was soon asleep.
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 Four
Sunday, November 14, 2004
Traces of the lab's psychedelic lightshow swirled around me as I stood up properly, my feet straddling Rachel's right leg. I spread my arms wide, palms outward in a stop gesture directed at each group of would-be combatants. The colors red and orange lit my fingers and spread out, dissipating in the late afternoon sun. "Help me!" I shouted. "Please!"
The two groups of medieval fighters paused to stare at me. The better-equipped ones hesitated, looked at each other, and started forward again. The ill-equipped peasants of the other group huddled together, muttering. I could not hear what they said, but it wasn't in English as I knew it. Clearly, I wasn't going to get any help from either group. There was nothing they could do for Rachel, anyway, not if they were as they appeared to be, people from a time before science or medicine.
I knelt quickly, and felt for Rachel's pulse. She didn't have one. I tried to apply CPR, and even managed to create an electric shock from the ions in the air. Her heart didn't start again. And now both groups of fighters were advancing on me. Some of them were shouting. From the way they glared at me, I got the impression they were now more angry with me than with each other.
The group in chain mail were within fifty yards of me as I stood up again. The peasant group had more ground to make up. They were perhaps seventy-five yards away. I figured I had three choices. I could try to reason with them, frighten them, or find a way to leave this place, fast.
"Please! You don't understand!" I shouted. "I was trying to save her life!" There was no reaction. I don't think they knew what my words meant. They only knew I was desperate and afraid, and probably a murderer. So much for reason or explanations. Tactic number two, then. I raised my arms again, drawing to myself the local fields of electromagnetic force. A lightning bolt flashed from my hand toward the sky, startling me as much as everyone else. Either my ability to manipulate the electromagnetic spectrum had increased geometrically over the past half hour, or there was something about this place, wherever it was, that was especially susceptible to manipulation. Or both. Probably both. I didn’t really know what I was doing, but that didn’t stop me from feeling the forces around me and manipulating them experimentally.
The two groups stopped again to stare at me as a second lightning bolt shot from my hand into the sky, accompanied by a crack of thunder. In the excited babble that followed I heard a word that sounded like "magus," but nothing else intelligible. Playing with lines of force as if they were a cat’s cradle string, I next managed a burst of color and a small sonic boom. The ill-equipped group turned and ran away, shouting. The group in chain mail held their ground, watching.
If I was going to make another attempt to save Rachel, now was the moment to try. I directed my arms downward. A small flash of white light leaped from my fingers to caress her skin, but there was no reaction, no convulsion, no sign of life or hope. Then a pale blue crackle of electricity arced up from Rachel's dead eyes to my lowered hand, and made its way up and down my spine. More electricity pulsed through the coated wires that still hung from my forehead like dreadlocks. I shuddered and staggered, but did not fall. Rachel's body still did not move.
And now the men in chain mail were starting to encircle me. One of them, taller and better dressed than the others, pointed a long and shiny sword at my waist, and shouted a command I did not understand. These people might be wary of my demonstration of static electricity, but it wouldn't stop them from trying to capture or kill me. Time to go, I thought.
If I merely ran away, these people would probably catch me, and be even less intimidated than they were now. Besides, I could not leave Rachel's body behind. Nor did I want to stay in such a dangerous and savage place. But how was I to get home? The only way I could think of to do that was to recreate the strobing lights and colors that had brought me here. I wiggled my fingers. A ball of light formed between me and the guy with the sword, eight feet off the ground and nine inches across. It pulsed and it spun. Bands of color like Saturn's rings encircled it, throwing off sparks that flashed down the sword blade, causing the sword's owner to drop it with a shout, shaking his fingers in startled pain.
I spread my arms again, fingers wide. "Back off, if you don't want to be hurt," I shouted. My would-be attackers seemed to grasp the concept, if not the words. They backed away, but only a hundred feet or so as they continued to watch my fumbling attempts to do what I needed to do. Soon I had the light and the colors looking as they had before, just before the world went away. I grabbed Rachel's hand and concentrated on the lab, praying that my improvised lightshow would get me there.
When the lab reappeared around me, I found myself standing with a table through my waist. I could no longer feel Rachel's fingers as her arm fell to the floor beside her. John Grayson stared at me in horror.
"What did you do?" he asked, his voice shaking. "What the hell did you do to my wife?"
"I'm sorry, Professor! I didn't mean..." I began, but now the lab was fading away again, and the Graysons with it. John Grayson yelled "Stein!" just as the last of the flourescent light winked out, leaving me in darkness.
Saturday, November 06, 2004
Wherever I go these days, I introduce myself as Joshua Wander. No one disputes the name, even in worlds where nobody else has the name Joshua, and where Wander isn't even a word. In some worlds I wear the name with some renown, or at least notoriety, as the meddling wizard who leaves chaos in his wake, but who probably means well.
What these people don't know, for the most part, is that I wasn't born with that name, or with magical talent, or even in a world where wizards are real. I was born in Syracuse, NY in 1957, with the name Christopher Stein. I was no different from any other baby in that gray city in that gray year, except that I was born with curly black hair.
I think my parents must have had a strange sense of humor, giving a Jewish kid the name Christopher. True, my mom was originally Roman Catholic, but she converted, didn't she? So why give me the name of a Christian saint, that even had the name Christ in it? But she did, and Dad agreed to it. I never got around to asking how they chose the name, and now, of course, it's too late. I can only figure that either I was meant to be reminded of my dual heritage, or I was meant to fit in with all those Christian kids at school.
Fat chance. I was smart, and scrawny, and Jewish, I wore glasses at an early age, and my best friend in elementary school was a girl. Five strikes and you're out.
Eventually I moved away, and started over with a new school and new kids, just as puberty hit. I got contact lenses, I wasn't scrawny any more, and it was okay to like girls. Best of all, the sons and daughters of politicians, bureaucrats, college professors and NIH employees had nothing against my being interested in science. So I won science fairs, aced my bio and chem and physics classes, and wrote science fiction in my spare time. I even played soccer, so that I wasn't considered a complete nerd. My parents got divorced, but that was just more raw material to be worked into my writing. Neither of them tried to make me choose sides, for which I'm grateful.
I ended up with a scholarship to Syracuse University, not far from the suburb where my earlier social failures took place. S.U. had a good physics department, and a fun bio prof, and an eccentric Chem 101 prof who was great, too. I made friends, and played D&D, and even got my homework done most of the time. Everything was fine, until I met Rachel.
Dr. Rachel Grayson was a biochemist, and the wife of my physics professor, Dr. John Grayson. They were researching the effects of the physical environment on brain function. Light, heat, electricity, pressure and other factors were applied to their paid volunteers. Dr. John figured out what parameters to use, and Dr. Rachel measured the effects, both objectively with EEG and so on, and subjectively through interviews afterward. Don't ask me what exactly they did, or how. I never knew all the details, and anyway, I'd prefer not to give anyone the means of repeating the experiments.
I was one of their subjects, not just for one experiment but for a whole series of them, lasting over a year. After a while, I was their only subject. Three things happened during that time. One: the experiments got weirder and weirder, as Dr. John found ways to play around with quantum theory on a macro scale. Two: I started to feel that I personally was getting weirder with each experiment. Sometimes colors looked different to me, as I became more aware of the electromagnetic spectrum. Sometimes I heard radio in my head, and I don't mean through fillings in my teeth. Time didn't seem to go at the normal rate, and I wasn't always sure it was going in only one direction.
Three: I fell in love with Dr. Rachel. I was pretty sure she knew about it, and maybe even reciprocated my feelings a little. I thought about talking to her about this, but I didn't have the nerve. Instead, I played out theoretical conversations in my mind. I wanted to say, "What do we do about this? Nothing, of course, but what else?" By which I meant that I wouldn't ever ask her to sleep with me. I'd seen how much damage adultery could do. Yet how could I pretend that I didn't care about her? That is what I did, though. I never said a word about my feelings.
One reason I didn't say anything was that I couldn't stand the idea of quitting the experiments. It wasn't just Dr. Rachel that drew me to the lab every Monday. It was also the way I was changing with each session. I felt smarter, and more aware of the way the world around me worked. I'd begun to crave the changes. The time might come when I'd be able to manipulate the physics of my surroundings, being there and not there at the same time, like Schroedinger's Cat, or pushing aside the molecules in a door like the man on Camazotz in A Wrinkle in Time. Even Dr. John began to think this sort of thing might be possible for me.
In the end, though, that wasn't quite what happened.
The last session had to do with strobe lights, the kind that sometimes cause epileptic seizures. I could see the light as waves and as particles, stretch them and contract them, and split them into colors. I thought at first that maybe this was just perceptual, something happening in my mind only, but Rachel said she saw it, too.
Then she began to have a seizure.
I fell all over myself, and tripped over all the equipment, trying to get to her. I tried to shut down the strobe with my mind alone, even as I tried to find the control to shut it down properly. I only succeeded in making the light brighter and weirder, swirling colors like something out of a psychedelic sixties film or seventies special effects. Except this was real, and it was clearly killing Rachel. She had slumped to the floor. I wasn't even sure she was breathing. Dr. John was out of the room. I shouted for him, and I shouted her name, too, as I struggled to reach her, diodes and wires dangling from my skin. I thought I saw Dr. John at the door, just before the world went away.
The next thing I knew, I was stumbling through a field. On my right were perhaps a hundred men in chainmail, carrying spears and a few swords. On my left were more of the same, but mostly without the chainmail. Somehow I knew that these people weren't in an S.C.A. campaign. They were really out to kill each other--and I was right in the middle.
And at my feet was Rachel's body.
The Real Joshua Wander
Joshua Wander: Two Fragments
Joshua Wander Lives (the history of the character)
Meet Joshua Wander, Part Two
Thursday, November 04, 2004
If you've been reading my fiction blog all along (and who has?), you may recall an early posting about my favorite non-Mâvarin character (well, mostly non-Mâvarin), Joshua Wander. I also wrote about the character in my LiveJournal blog.
J.W. was the lead non-player character in a live D&D session in college, but I probably created him sometime before that, possibly in high school. In the live dungeon under the Vincent Apartments in Syracuse, Josh had a nemesis who called himself Xerxes Grayman, who blamed Josh for the death of his wife. Both characters became wizards more or less by accident after a science experiment went awry, killing the wife and sending J.W. tripping involuntarily through the multiverse. That much of John's story I managed to get on paper at about this time, but the full expression of his relationship with Xerxes pretty much came from the Vincent campaign.
The story went nowhere, but I used Joshua Wander extensively in D&D, though college and for a few years after that. Along the way he ended up with a castle with the same quantum(?) instability he had, called Toujours Chez Moi because he was able to take it with him from world to world. He also ended up with a daughter, Ariel Allegra. I don't remember who the mother was.
The only problem with the character is that I've never been able to get his story plotted and written. Someday I will, I hope, but probably not until I'm a lot less obsessed with Mâvarin than I am now.
Now, the names Joshua Wander and Xerxes Grayman were designed to be obvious pseudonyms. Joshua Wander's real name was Christopher Stein, and he was a college student when his story began. His professor, John Grayson, was the man destined to chase him from world to world.
So you can imagine my surprise when, a couple of years ago, a rather large family named Wander bought tickets at Worldwide Travel where I work. I checked the invoice. Sure enough, one of the passengers was named Joshua Wander. I felt as if my fictional character had stopped off in my reality, just long enough to remind me of his existence.
Well, I posted about all this in July. In August I heard from another real-world Joshua Wander, who'd Googled up his name and found the Blogger post. He is evidently not the man who bought tickets at Worldwide Travel, but, like that man, he does travel. In fact, like the fictional J.W., this second namesake travels a lot.
How do I know this? I just heard from him again. He wanted to let me know about his new club and web site, the D4DR Club. No, it has nothing to do with SUVs, at least not directly. D4DR is apparently the designation of what might be called the adventure-seeking gene. The purpose of the club is to reach out to other people with the "elongated" D4DR gene.
This real-world JW has strong symptomatic evidence of the adventure-seeking trait. According to the D4DR web site, he's been to 50 countries, and reported news from Iraq, Haiti, Northern Ireland and other "hot spots." There's more to the resume, but you get the gist. How appropriate - my most adventurous, well-traveled character has a real-world equivalent with many of the same traits.
Unless, of course, they really are the same person. ;)
And lest we think this is all a hoax (the thought did cross my mind!), a reporter named Josh Wander is all over the web, as a quick Google search reveals. One of the links was to an NPR story. When I saw that, I remembered that I thought I'd heard the name on NPR at least once, but decided I'd been mistaken.
The family name really is Wander, and the man is definitely a reporter in the Middle East and elsewhere. Josh Wander was also behind a controversial, possibly satirical proposal to return the Statue of Liberty to France, at about the same time as the nonsense about "freedom fries." He appears to take his Jewish faith and family ties very seriously, as may be seen on the Wander's Web site. Well, my Chris Stein is Jewish, so that fits, too. (It occurs to me now that I shouldn't have given a Jewish wizard character the first name Christopher, but I was young then, and didn't think it through.)
I'm not sure about that Statue of Liberty thing, though. I suspect that this J.W. and I may be worlds apart politically.
Then again, I never asked the fictional Joshua Wander for his opinions about France or Iraq.
Sunday, October 31, 2004
Sabedu, 5th day of Mudelem, 876 MMY
Well, I finally took your advice about that one prophecy. It only took me eleven years. King Jor turned out to be a rather nice man, with a streak of eccentricity that runs at least as deep as mine. He's worried now, though, as we knew he would be. He believed everything I said, even if he didn't understand it all. Perhaps now that he knows there's trouble ahead (not that he doesn't have plenty of trouble already), he will appreciate what he has while he still has it.
I got through the battle of Eplimar all right, wondering the whole time why the Infinite sent me here before the fighting started, and then told me not to talk to the King before the fighting was over. I managed to help the King's forces with some illusions. My only injury was when a horse stepped briefly on my foot. Nothing's broken, fortunately. I'm hardly limping any more. There were a few moments when I was in real danger, but a couple of the King's soldiers drove off the Mâtonans (not mages, but conscripted villagers) who had targeted me. I think the Mâvarin soldiers were named Jami and Pol. I have a feeling I'll see them both again someday.
After the battle, I finally found out why I'm here, aside from delivering the prophecy to the King. I was walking by a burned-out house--there is terrible devastation, far too depressing to describe to you--when I saw a girl sitting in front of it. Her eyes were all scrunched up, as though she was determined not to cry, not to show any fear or weakness. She was thirteen years old, tidy and pretty but not really beautiful. She was looking for somebody to help her bury her parents, whose charred bodies were still in the house. Mera was willing to exchange her freedom--four years as a bond servant, doing even the most degrading tasks a teenage girl might have--for her parents' burial and her own food and shelter. So of course I did what she wanted, but not on those terms. Congratulate me, Hasi--I have a daughter! Mera is bright and honest and hard-working, and a wonderful cook, it turns out. She's very lucky I heard her offer before some randy soldier got to her, and I'm very lucky she came into my life. Of course, it's not really luck at all, but a blessing from the Infinite.
I'm working on a comic ballad at the moment, partly to cheer Mera, and partly to be performed when I play the itinerant entertainer. See what you think of what I have so far:
The Beaver and the Bear went a-walking up a hill
(Back when the trees were growing there still).
And some bees started buzzing, like the bear’s own snore,
And the Bear said, “Look! That’s what trees are here for!”
The Bear said the trees were for storing up honey,
And the Beaver said trees were for building a dam.
But the farmer said, “The trees here are costing me money.
It’ll be much better when I clear the land.”
The Bear said, “You’ve used trees to make yourself a house,
And so does a human, and the tiny titmouse.
But the best tree-houses are made by the bee,
Because they’re the ones that make all that honey for me!”
It will be a whole parable about the way all the animals can use the land together until the farmer ruins everything. It probably won't go over well outside Gathmak, but oh, well.
Say hi to Pata for me, and come visit when you can. Mera and I should be home three weeks from tomorrow.
Saturday, October 23, 2004
The following diary entries, by the Commander of the Palace Guard, are concurrent with chapters six through nine of Heirs of Mâvarin.
Comerdu, 13th Day of Dortem, 896 MMY
There was an odd disturbance this evening, something about traitors in the city. 'Nishmû knows there have been plenty of so-called "traitors" arrested over the years, but this was different. Princess Cathma mentioned to Prince Carli at dinner that she met a girl her age at the home of the mage Rutana. Within an hour of that conversation, the First Minister had put the Palace Guard on alert. The girl, I'm told, is an impostor princess, in Thâlemar to overthrow the royal family. I have my doubts.
Sabedu, 14th Day of Dortem, 896 MMY
Queen Talea, Princess Tãrna and Prince Areno arrived from Fãrnet this afternoon. It's an awkward time for their visit, because of this business with the alleged impostor princess. She got away from Captain Herton, just barely. Instead, Herton arrested his predecessor, Captain Ramet, along with his son. I would like to have questioned these two, but Imuselti had already released them by the time I got the news--unluckily for them. I will have to get one of the Prison guards to keep me informed what's going on down there.
I did learn that the mage Dupili escaped from the political wing today, probably with outside help. Dupili had already been there for a week, a long time to defy Imuselti successfully. Naturally I'm glad that my ex-girlfriend's father is no longer imprisoned, even if I don't know how he managed it. I'm grateful that my Palace duties do not officially include what goes on downstairs in the Prison.
Interestingly, Herton dismissed Lok Awer from the Guard for attacking the Ramets after the arrest. The First Minister upheld his son's discharge. Good for him. The lad has always been a troublemaker.
Nishmudu, 15th Day of Dortem, 896 MMY
No news on the impostor front today, only rumors. The word is that the impostor princess has a brother down south somewhere. He is said to be dead or dying. Nobody seems to know the source of this intelligence, if that's what it is.
Meanwhile, we've been kept busy with the royal visit. There are few Palace duties less interesting than watching Princess Cathma show little Princess Tãrna the royal gardens and the royal wardrobe. I suspect Princess Cathma would agree with me on this.
Masheldu, 16th Day of Dortem, 896 MMY
No news on the alleged impostors. I kept an eye on Princess Cathma and Princess Tãrna as they toured the local churches. Sheldi Aldan had more interesting duty, accompanying Prince Carli and Prince Areno on a hunting trip. Modo Bruber guarded King Jor and Queen Talea. Their conference seems to have been almost as ceremonial as their children's activities. I have to wonder why Fãrnet's royal family, minus the ailing king, would travel so far to accomplish so little.
Thaledu, 17th Day of Dortem, 896 MMY
Princess Cathma was missing from the Palace for a short while today, but nothing came of it. It was during a lull in her scheduled duties entertaining Princess Tãrna. Smart girl, that Cathma. In the evening, she finally got a real break from her babysitting, attending a play with Prince Areno. It wasn't a good play, but I doubt she cared about that.
The weird news of the day is that tengremen were spotted in the city. Rather than give the order to attack the creatures that kidnapped the King so long ago, the First Minister actually met with them. My guards were not allowed in the Sun Room during the meeting, so I have no idea what was said.
Meanwhile, there was another magic-assisted escape from the political wing of the Prison. This time the prisoner was a tanner from Liftlabeth. He supposedly knew the impostor princess, but when I spoke to him he refused to say anything helpful. He seemed more bewildered and put upon than conspiratorial. He was gone before anyone else questioned him. I have not reported my failed interrogation to the First Minister. Fortunately for me, he and King Jor seem content to exclude me from the obviously political arrests. As long as Imuselti is their royal interrogator, I'm not going to do anything to change that.
Still, I would like to know what's really going on.
Sunday, October 17, 2004
Masheldu, 6th Day of Genorem, 881 MMY
You will be pleased to learn that my son was born yesterday, just as you predicted. The midwife tells me that the birth was among the easiest in which she has participated, although it did not seem that way to me. What matters is that he seems to be a completely normal, completely healthy baby. Dear Mâshela, may he always be as normal as he is now!
I have named him Rani Fost, since it seems foolish to give him the surname of a father he will never know. Rani is as dark as his dad, which will be a little awkward in this village where everyone is as pale as I am. Still, the people of Liftlabeth all seem to be friendly, tolerant people. They should provide a good environment in which to raise my son, far from the madness, the savagery and the magic I left behind. Mâshela willing, Rani will never need to know about any of that, much less experience it himself. He will obviously know of his Mugalan ancestry, but not about the terrible life that his father and I were forced to lead, the enslavement that had nothing to do with the color of his father's skin.
If your son survives, recovers his wits and comes to see you, please tell him to stay away from Liftlabeth. I have begun a quiet, stable life here. His arrival would compromise that. After what happened, I can't ever trust him to be around Rani. Even if he is fully recovered and stays that way, he will never be normal enough for Liftlabeth, and his belated appearance would invite questions that I'm not prepared to answer. Please tell him that I'm sorry. I know he is not in any way to blame for the attack, and I wish things were different. But that is how it must be, for Rani's sake.
The money Zagorni gave me is almost gone, but I'm now earning enough at market each Comerdu to get by. I have even started to get custom orders for clothing, especially dresses in the hard-to-get colors. My customers don't need to know how I produce the red, green, silver, gold and purple cloth.
Thank you for all you have done for us.
Art by Sherlock
Saturday, October 09, 2004
The following is the message for Crel that her Uncle Jamek sends north with Bil Gorben in Chapter Seven of Heirs of Mâvarin.
Sabedu, 14th Day of Dortem, 896 MMY
This will have to be cryptic. I'm sure you understand why. The bearer of this letter can tell you about recent local events, but that’s all. The less he knows about our plans, the safer we all will be if something else goes wrong.
I know where your brother is going. R. is with him, and yes, F. was right. My hired help and I are going to try to catch up with them. It's not likely that I'll be back soon. I going to go with your brother rather than try to bring him home. This is partly for R's sake, but mostly because F. was right about your father, too.
YOU ARE IN DANGER. Strangers have been here, almost certainly from Mâton, asking questions. There's a chance they know who you are, and where you've gone, but they probably don't know where specifically you're staying. Do not go outside P's house. Do not talk to strangers. Especially, do not go looking for F. We don't know how he fits into all this, or whether he's really on our side.
In the unlikely event that something happens to your hosts, try to get to the place where you saw the mice. M. can probably keep you safe if you stay out of sight, and say nothing to anyone about all the things I'm sure you're dying to talk about. Just tell M. that I've gone to find the man who never came back, and that I'll pay for everything when I return. If the first part of that doesn't make sense to her, remind her where I used to work. I'm pretty sure she already knows that much.
I know this isn't what you wanted or expected, and I know you feel I no longer have the right to tell you what you can and cannot do. But please, for your own safety, rely on my borrowed authority a little longer, and obey. Most of all, be careful!
May the blessings of Mâshela and Thâle be yours.
Journal Entry #1: Crel's Diary, First Entry
Journal #Entry #3: Crel's Diary, Second Entry
Sunday, October 03, 2004
Gerbrin Police Department
Magic Enforcement Division
Case # 78234
Subject: "Faithful" Cult
Supervising Officer: Inspector Stradle
We are maintaining surveillance of the River Street residence where the monsters were found and the cultists arrested. One of the reported monsters, formerly a cultist named Mondred, remains at large, with no further clues to its whereabouts. Also missing are three other monsters, all of them reportedly foreigners, and the cult leader, Cherlas Dewared, age 47.
The human cultists remain cooperative. They have all renounced the use of their illegal and dangerous "spirit drink," a variant of which caused the transformations. Analysis of this potion reveals a high blood content as well as undefined magical properties. The blue spirit drink conferred illegal abilities to the cultists on a temporary basis. The green variant, reportedly made with the blood of the foreign monster, induced the unnatural transformations. It is not clear exactly where this monster and its formerly human companions came from, nor where they escaped to after the debacle. Inspector Reger has suggested that one of the ancient portals may have been found and activated. Eyewitness accounts suggest that before they became monsters, the two human foreigners spoke an unknown language they called Mavarinue.
Dr. Sowart has analysed the bodies of the three monster cultists killed yesterday, as well as the human cultist who was apparently killed by the monsters five days ago. All four bodies appear to be completely human now, with no trace of the hooves and horns and fur my officers and I saw in three of them before we shot them. The cause of death in the murdered human was a slash across the throat, possibly from a monster's claw. The body had numerous gashes, quite obviously from the monsters' teeth and claws. He has been identified as Ruthar Gawareth, age 43, a physician. The three ex-monsters have been identified as follows:
"Sister" Belithize Waltor, age 27, a primary school teacher,
"Sister" Nane Verdun, age 52, elder sister of Councillor Shane Verdun, and
"Brother" Torben Isling, age 25, a shop clerk.
Before expiring, the monster Belthize stated, in barely understandable words, that cult leader Cherlas Dewared had been killed by the foreign monster whose blood was used in the green spirit drink. Our working theory is that the fourth monster cultist, "Brother" Mondred Pons, age 36, a locksmith, escaped through the same portal as the three foreign monsters. Our search continues for the alleged portal as well as the fugitives.
Due to the clandestine nature of the cult's operations, and the quick actions of this department, very few people outside the cult and the constabulary seem to be aware of recent events, particularly with respect to the monsters. The only non-cultists seen at the River Street address today were three relatives of one of the deceased cultists, although none of us seem to recall which one. There have been complaints about what amounted to a small illegal zoo behind Dewared's residence. However, most of the animals were gone by the time of the arrests.
An artist's rendering of the monsters is attached. Each one has four legs after the manner of a horse, two arms that end in clawed hands, a heavily-furred upper torso, and a wolflike head with yellow eyes and a single horn. One of my detectives remarked that whoever created the creature evidently drew on several well-known mythical creatures for inspiration. An unconfirmed report names the monster a "tengrem."
Detective Inspector Petro G. Stradle
Saturday, September 25, 2004
(The following is the letter the King is reading in the opening scene of Mages of Mâvarin)
Umvardu, 13th Day of Fredor, 897 MMY
Things are quiet here for the moment, but there's no knowing (Fayubi excepted) how long that will last. By the time Nalo gets this letter to you, everything may have changed. Perhaps you could ask my mother to set up a nice, discreet portal between Thâlemar and my cottage. That way, if major trouble erupts here you will be able to respond faster - if there's anything you feel you can do about it at all. The actions of a few dozen tengremen at the other end of the country may not be a major priority for you right now, but I promise you, they will be.
So far, Albi is still allowing dissident tengremen to leave Gathmak, if he finds he can't control them as pack leader. He predicts that they'll be back, because there's no place else a tengrem is welcome--except Varthtimar, of course, and that's practically uninhabitable. That's where he thinks they're all going. Miserable place. I've seen it. A few tengremen really are living in the swamps down there, but not many.
If Albi knew that the deserters all had necklaces, I'm certain that he'd be less tolerant of their going. In theory, they can live as humans wherever they want, far from Albi and his ambitions. That's anathema to Albi, and problematic for us as well. Let me assure you that I screen them all very carefully before helping them, both for emotional stability and for their loyalty to Mâvarin. There are too many amoral or pro-Mâton tengremen galloping around the country as it is, without my adding to them.
I'm trying to steer as many of the dissidents as possible to the new settlement outside Skû. The humans in the area are relatively tolerant, and the tengremen are only a few days from Gathmak if it comes down to a fight.
As for myself, I've been very careful to keep my production of extra necklaces a secret from everyone but Zagorni. Even the tengremen I give them to are told that their particular necklaces are my only "spares." Still, I've had a few close calls in which Albi saw a dissident in the vicinity of my cottage. These days I'm coming to them rather than risk their visits to me. I do it in the middle of the night, bearing charms that render me invisible and unsmelled.
I hope your new Minister of Tengrem Relations can work something out with Albi, or reinstill in him some respect for the human government. I can't imagine anything Cort could say to accomplish this. Albi's latest scheme seems to involve identifying tengremen who are both loyal to him and capable of being trained as mages. If he can accomplish that, he'll be able to banish me and the other humans from Gathmak. That's assuming he doesn't try to have us killed instead. Fortunately, he won't be able to replace his human "allies" that quickly or easily. There are tengremen with talent, but instruction in magic takes years - and I don't know who Albi thinks he can get to do the training. He's certainly not looking to humans to do it. You may want to warn Meligor.
Sunday, September 19, 2004
Okay, now I'm embarrassed. But it's not my fault, honest!
Back in 1989, when I finally finished my first draft of Heirs of Mâvarin, I had a walk-on character at the end named Harisoni. This mage's talent is sending people to what he calls "the subjective plane," there to learn about the universe and their place in it. I named him Harisoni as a riff on George Harrison, because Harisoni is essentially a mystic.
Since then, the character has developed into Fayubi's lifelong best friend. They run away to Mâton together as children, are roommates all through school, and stay in touch afterward. This is all backstory, taking place decades before the events of the first book. But when Fayubi gets in terrible trouble in Mages of Mâvarin, Harisoni turns up again as his friend and guide.
So anyway, six months ago I decided to shorten the character's name by one syllable. Y'see, mages get an extra syllable added to their names at their Robings, so having a three-syllable name in Mâvarin usually means that you're a mage. Because being a mage is not universally thought of as a Good Thing, most children are given one or two syllable names: Pol, Clif, Suri, Masha and so on. (A final a or e makes it a girl's name, and an i or o makes it a boy's name.) That way, when they're adults, nobody will think they're mages unless they really are mages, and their names really have been lengthened. This is all stuff I worked out years and years ago.
But Harisoni is four syllables, and the derivation is too obvious. So Harisoni became Harisi. Working backwards, Harisi's childhood name (and the nickname his wife uses) became Hari.
This was all fine and dandy until last night, when for the first time I wrote a scene that takes place decades before the first book, in which Hari and Fabi run away to the Mâton College of Magic. That's right: the kid's an orphan. Named Hari. At a school of magic.
It didn't occur to me until tonight that someone might be reminded of an orphan named Harry, at a school of witchcraft and wizardry. Aargh!!!!!!
So. I can let Harisi be Harisi, with a childhood name that was meant to evoke Hare Krishna but which can be construed as a ripoff of J. K. Rowling. Until I write the prequel, the character's always going to be an adult called Harisi anyway, having essentially nothing in common with that Potter kid except a lack of living parents. (When you're pushing 50, that's not terribly unusual.)
I can do forty documents' worth of search and replace, turning him back into Harisi / Harisoni. Maybe nobody will notice that he's a musical mystic with a Beatlish name and a quirky sense of humor. That'll work, right?
Sara suggested Haro for the childhood name. That way he becomes Hariso as a mage. The Beatle reference becomes less distractingly obvious, the Potter connection fades, and I just have to deal with the fact that I don't like the name much.
What should I do? People who actually read and like this stuff, please comment or email me (mavarin at aol.com) your thoughts on this subject. Thanks!
Art by Sherlock
P.S. (Monday, 11:36 AM MST) Here's a thought. How about Hasi and Harisi? That follows the naming rules, eliminates the Potter connection, and leaves the character with his current mage name. Only problem is that Hasi sounds a bit like Jonny Quest's friend Haji. Whaddaya think?
And then there's this. Becky asks:
= How about Haru, Haruo... Haruo is Japanese for Spring and also my FIL's name. Haru for short. Or you could just change the first character of his name. Bari, Barisi, Barisoni...yadda. :-) =
I like both of those names, but they don't port well linguistically. Haru would be a monûn name in Mavarinû because of the final u, and the character doesn't qualify for that. (Baku is a monûn character.) The mage name would be Harusi or Haruso (does he sing opera?) or Harisu, which sounds Japanese but still follows Mavarinû nomenclature. Mavarinû doesn't have adjacent vowels, so Haruo doesn't work. Nice names, though. I could probably dump the distinction of the final u being ethnically monûn, but not without going through my character lists and seeing where things stand now in this respect. I have over 150 named characters, so every change has potential consequences.
Li's brother, Barselti, was named Barisi in an earlier draft. And yes, his childhood name / nickname is Bari.