Saturday, January 22, 2005

Meet Joshua Wander, Part Twelve

Art by Sherlock, adapted from an early draft of Rani's portrait.
Joshua Wander's story is too long to summarize here. Please see Part Seven for the story up to that point. Links to all installments are now on the sidebar.

Part Seven: Joshua (a.k.a. Chris Stein) introduces Harry (a.k.a. the wizard Onclemac) to his friend Jerry, and explains his current predicament. Jerry tells them that Professor Grayson has accused Chris of killing Rachel. Unable to touch anything in the world of his birth, Josh asks Harry and Jerry to collect some of his clothes. First, however, Josh must distract the police who are searching his dorm room.

Part Eight: Josh freaks out the cops, explains why he can't ride in a police car, and leads the two officers into a nearby stairwell. As they try to get a straight answer from him about whether he killed Rachel, a new voice enters the discussion: Rachel's, coming from Josh's mouth.

Part Nine: Rachel's ghost (spirit, whatever) reveals that she had an unreported family history of epilepsy. She figures she died of a stroke, and blames no one else for her death. Knowing the police can't rely on her or Chris for evidence, Rachel suggests alternatives. Chris corroborates Rachel's story, and then walks away through a wall.

Part Ten: After a short, private conversation with Rachel, Chris/Josh makes his way back to the dorm room, where Jerry and Harry have just about finished collecting some clothes for Josh. Armed with change from the dorm room, they call Chris's father from a pay phone in the hall. Dr. Stein is worried, and understandably skeptical about his son's explanation. Josh drops the human shape of his incorporeal existence in his home reality, and launches himself through the phone lines toward his father in Maryland.

Part Eleven: Chris/Josh arrives at his father's apartment via telephone, and they have a brief conversation. When he returns, Josh's friends notice that his appearance is a little indistinct, just as the world seems that way to Josh. Despite Harry's warning, Josh visits his mother the same way. This time when he returns, his form is even more nebulous. Nevertheless, he's determined to talk to John Grayson before he loses contact with his original reality.

Part Twelve: Finding Grayson

“We could try calling him,” Jerry suggested.

“Not if Josh is going to ride the phone lines again,” Harry said disapprovingly.

“I won’t,” I said.

“No, I mean, just to make arrangements to meet somewhere,” Jerry said.

“You mean, discuss his wife’s death over a beer at Hungry Chuck’s, while Cranberry Lake plays Ain’t Nobody’s Business?” I said. “That’ll work out well.”

“Jeeze, Chris,” Jerry said. “Don’t be so cranky!”

“Call me Josh,” I said.

“Fine. Don’t be so cranky, Josh.”

He’s right, Rachel told me. You are being unreasonable.

“Okay, I’m sorry,” I said. “I’m under a bit of stress right now. But there’s no point in calling him. He’s not likely to be home.” I turned away from the pay phones. “Come on, let’s go,” I said. I started down the hall, back toward the stairs.

“How will we know where to find Dr. John?” Jerry asked.

“His wife died yesterday,” Harry pointed out. “If the coroner’s done with the body, then he’s probably at the funeral home by now.”

“Oh, right,” Jerry said.

I doubt it, Rachel told me. He’ll be at the lab.

“I don’t think so,” I told Jerry. “He’s probably at the lab. Unless the police have it locked off or something.”

Harry frowned. “Why would he be at the lab?”

“He’ll want to find out for himself what happened to Rachel,” I said. “He’ll need the lab for that.”


Jerry pulled open the door to the stairwell, and held it open for Harry behind him.

“But the coroner’s report is probably done by now,” Harry pointed out. “At least the cause of death, if not the actual formal report. What more does Grayson need to know?” He looked at me as he held the door open behind him. I shook my head, and he let it clang shut as I walked right through it.

“He needs to know whether I killed her,” I said. “I remember his face when he saw me with Rachel’s body. He’s not going to just accept that it was a medical fluke.”

If you can’t convince him that it’s not your fault, he’ll carry that grudge forever, Rachel warned.
And he’ll act on that grudge.

I found myself wondering whether Rachel’s marriage had been an unhappy one.

Yes, it was a bad marriage, Rachel told me. This was a surprise, because I had not consciously communicated the question to her. But I was trying to stick it out anyway.

No wonder she didn’t mind being dead.

Still, this was no time to think about Rachel’s marriage, or even our ability to communicate without the spoken word. I had two living human beings to pay attention to as well. They clattered down the stairs ahead of me. I could see the sound waves they generated as I followed behind.

Jerry glanced back up at me as he reached the second landing. “What will Grayson do if he decides it was your fault?” he asked.

“Try to kill me, I assume.”

“You really think so?” Jerry asked. “I mean, he’s a professor and everything. You make him sound like a dangerous loony.”

I had to smile at the choice of words. “Like me, you mean? Yes, I really think so.”

“And this is the man you want to see, is it?” Harry said. “Are you trying to destroy yourself?”

“Not particularly.”

Another floor down. “Then why do you want to see this man?”

“I owe him an explanation.”

“If you’re right about his state of mind—and I don’t see any particular reason to believe that you are—then I don’t see how it helps him much.”

Another floor.

“And it certainly doesn’t help you much,” Harry continued. “You should let me take you back to Angland right now, while there’s still enough of you for my spell to find.”

“How are you going to do that?” I asked. “You can’t even touch me. Besides, I thought your spell number one went to random worlds.”

And another.

“True, but spell number seven moves any well-defined subject to a well-defined destination,” Harry said. “I’ll get you there.”

“Perhaps you will,” I said, “but not just yet. I have to do this, Harry.”

Harry paused at the fifth floor landing. “All right. If you’re that determined, we’ll see it through.”

“Good. Thanks.”

“Speaking of determined people, we saw those cops again while you were with your mother,” Jerry said. “They came out of the stairwell, locked up your dorm room and left again.”

Fourth floor.

“Did they say anything?” I asked.

“Not to us,” Jerry said. “We didn’t draw attention to ourselves.”

“Where did they go?”

“Down the elevator. The slow one.”

Third floor.

“You know, even if Grayson blames you, I don
t think there’s much he can do to you,” Jerry said. “He can’t touch you, any more than we can.”

“Maybe not here, he can’t,” I said. “But what if he follows me?”

Harry looked back at me and frowned. Second floor. “Follow you? How would he do that?”

“I’ve been thinking about these experiments that made me, well, whatever it is that I am. Unstable, let’s say. He designed those experiments. What’s to stop him from duplicating the results?”

“You mean, on himself?” Jerry asked. First floor. He held open the door again, and we stepped out into the dorm lobby. Through the glass doors ahead of us, I saw Hennigan and Farrell drive away in their police car.

“That’s what I mean,” I said. “Quiet a second. I want to try something.” Remembering the times I’d accidentally heard radio signals without a radio, I looked off in the direction the police car had gone, and “listened.”

“…break-in at the lab where that professor died,” said a voice.

A returning signal crackled into life. “On it,” said Cindy Farrell’s voice. The sound was distorted by the low-quality signal, but still recognizable. I wondered whether I’d been distorted in transmission myself.

“He’s at the lab, for sure,” I said. “I heard it on the police band.”

Jerry shook his head. “You are seriously weird, Chris—uh, Josh,” he said. “But I believe you.”

We started across campus toward the physics building. This time I had to angle myself uphill instead of downhill. It made no difference to me, but Harry was puffing by the time we reached the Quad.

“What gets me is that you’ve been a wizard, or at least an affront to the laws of physics, for less than a day,” Harry said, “and you already have a mortal enemy. What will you do if he does try to kill you?”

“Try not to get killed, of course.”

“Would you kill him?”


You’d better not, Rachel said.

“I don’t want to hurt him,” I said. “I just want him to know what happened.”

“Maybe I’m naïve or something,” Jerry said, “but I just can’t believe that Dr. John would try to kill anyone. I think you’re projecting all this on him, because you feel guilty yourself.”

“I hope you’re right,” I said.

We got to the corridor outside the lab a few minutes later. The sight of Hennigan unconscious on the floor told me that Grayson was still here, and that Jerry was wrong. Flashing lights could be seen beneath the locked door, and I could hear the familiar hum of equipment.

“Make sure Officer Hennigan’s okay,” I told my friends.

Then I walked—or floated, or flowed—through the closed laboratory door.

Next week: possibly the end of the serial, or almost the end, or the week I get stuck and it all comes to nothing. Be sure to stop back next Saturday night to find out which!

Joshua Wander in Musings:
Part One Part Two Part Three Part Four Part Five Part Six Part Seven Part Eight Part Nine
Part Ten Part Eleven

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