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Mary

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For Ellen, who always enjoyed my ridiculous stories about fantastical worlds...

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Disclaimer: Most things are unanswered. Things end quickly. And that is because life is usually like that...

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Introduction

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Three cloisonnĂŠ pieces, handsome and brightly painted of crimson and orange and garnets, with blues and sea emeralds, detailed with threads of silver and gold. Miniature boxes, stamped with the wax seal of kings... Mary Gold hardly knew what to think. The seemingly insignificant trinkets before her were more valuable than any other thing she had seen, and she knew that they were not mere boxes. They were worlds, she was sure 11


of it, worlds of plenty and wealth, worlds of bright skies and vast cities, and orchards and gardens on royal palace grounds, of high seas teeming with strange fish and sea creatures, and far below in its depths, pirate treasures and sunken ships. Beyond this, she could not guess, but what she imagined likely scarcely compared to what truly lay within the dainty scrolls and colored swirls. Who would be able to tell her? Who had lost these fair masterpieces by the wayside? Such a fine embroidered silk bag, and such a prize, could not have been lost easily. She carefully scooped up the bag in her hand, and delicately placed the five boxes as carefully as she knew how, within the silk folds. Her hands tightly closed and tied the string shut around the bag, and placed it within the leather knapsack upon her back. The road of stones lay far ahead, and she had long to go before nightfall. But surely she would come across the unfortunate soul who had lost all his treasures. She walked for a good twelve miles. The sun was sinking low in the heavens beyond the mount. She wondered 12


whether she would come to reach the end before the moon rose. Her knapsack seemed heavier than normal, much heavier than a few small boxes would add in weight. But she continued on, against the setting sun, hoping her destination would not be closed yet for the early evening. The tides of the sky began to darken early that evening. There were no storms on the horizon, but the swells of the gray billows warmed of rain perhaps, or an early night. Mary wished she were already in the shelter of her studio room in the mountains. The hills below were unfriendly. Recently, she had encountered a slight incidental brush-up against authority in the lower town region where she had traveled, and not many took kindly to her being out and about with trouble after her. She had heard that she would soon be moved for a spell, then be kept hidden within a new apartment beyond the mountains. What she had committed, in the way of a crime, could hardly be considered an actual offense. And yet the cruel countess of the Blue Moon, had been in market that day. For some reason, 13


while Mary had been counting out the silver pieces for her lunch of bread and soft cheese, she had been seen and thought to be someone else, by this particular countess with little patience. Exactly whom she had taken Mary to be, mattered little apparently, for she was quickly pulled back by several local town guards who had drawn her into the crowd, before the countess had further time to act on the matter. They had lost her amongst the merchants with as little attention drawn as possible, and explained to her the dilemma as mildly as possible. For they had no intention of frightening her. Once the explanations had been received, Mary was escorted casually to the eastern gate, and told to eat her lunch in the hills, until the golden flag was lowered within the the walls, once the countess had left. Likely, it was the doing of the Over-lord Queen Jexebella who had the under hand in all the commotion that came from her unofficial exile. Mary had thought through the day carefully, trying to recall what she might have done to draw the attention of the countess of the Blue 14


Moon. No matter what it might have been, her instincts confirmed over and over to her, that the Queen was ultimately responsible. Just over the ridge ahead lay the Chilean green of the first valley. She would have stopped had the hour not been so late, to lay awhile and regather her strength for the steep climb ahead. However, she only paused long enough to fill her leather water-pouch at the side of the mountain stream. Several white violet patches grew there, and she thought to herself how good they would be in a wild mountain salad that night for dinner. However, there was no way to preserve them for the climb. Besides, she thought to herself, as she continued to fill the pouch, what a pity it would be to pull them from the mossy bank. They bloomed so gracefully and innocently there. She hadn't the heart to tear their roots that late afternoon, not after the harshness of the past morning. She was tired, and wished to leave well enough alone, even if they were only fleeting blossoms. Her cask was soon full enough, and she pulled herself up from the low 15


stone on the bank, and made her way back on the path to the road beyond. It was full of worn cobbles -- of black and dark green and cinnabar. Yet because of its age, puckered mushrooms and lichens grew, frosty white and glowing reds and honeys. She liked their taste in the cold early spring, but they were not the food for late summer. She thought again of the marvelous find upon her path. She never could have dreamed why such a valuable article could have fallen unheeded, but there it was -- real -- the tiny cold pieces breathing the warmth of worlds within. Of course she could never possibly bring herself to open them, for then its owner would surely find her immediately. And as her neck was already under sentence of sacrifice, she rather hoped she could carry them undetected. They were spectacular, wickedly gorgeous in their sparkling and glowing entities beyond the thick enameled shells. She did find herself tempted to crack their wax seals. She had not even thought to examine the markings upon any of their seals. No, it would not give her the indication to who owned such marvels, but it would 16


provide her the date of their last opening, and at least perhaps the province to which they belonged. She paused in her tracks upon the dusty trail, for the cobbles were beginning to fade away where the road went too far into the mountains, where no city dwellers would come. A great temptation came over her to check these seals. Perhaps she was unknowingly stealing, and should have left them upon the path. By bringing them with her, she would only be detected upon turning them in to the province. Could she return and place them on the path before dark? She looked above to the sun, paling against the mountains. There was not time to go back. She could not spend the night alone in such wilderness. And she could not return to the town. If she left them upon the path there, it would only indicate to the finder, where her tracks led, high into the mountains. And if found, there, no one could help her. She chided herself for not leaving them on the cobbles. “Foolish, Mary,� she grimaced to herself, as she turned once again from the sparse cobbles to the dimming sky. 17


How could she possibly undo the situation? Could she really throw such a treasure down into the valley? No... such a thing could hardly be wise. One would likely find her tracks anyway, in search of the treasure. Any good tracker would realize what she had done. Her thick rubber-soled boots left light, but well-tractioned grooves in the dirt, and showed exactly where she had hesitated. She could hardly have walked on the grass for fear of the sloughs. She sighed shallowly as she looked back down the path. Only the rain could help her now, and this was likely, as the clouds were piling high in the west. She would continue. There was nothing else to be done. Yet there was a moment to rest on the stone and observe the valley below before the last steep stretch. She pulled her knapsack down to the road and fumbled in it a minute, before retrieving the desired article. It was a small painted tin, filled with soft squares of caramel, though the buttery brown sweetness that lay in little piles like stacked bricks, was hardly like the normal caramel in a sweet shop. These 18


small squares would bring strength for a long and difficult journey. And there she sat for a short spell. As she contemplated the valley below, the small colored blurs of far-off villages met her eyes. She fished again and brought out a pair of small spectacles with peculiar dials and cogs so small, one would use a pin to turn them. She adjusted them to the proper dimensions and slipped the glasses over her eyes. The valley seemed as normal... nothing out of the ordinary. However, there seemed to be a strange wind that fluttered, from village to village, beyond the hills, and back again, a giant circle, as a great fairy ring. Perhaps this wind was not abnormal for such a season, but Mary noted it anyway, as she sat there. She adjusted her glasses once more to the far part of the valley, just to where the ancient white marble ruins of the old peoples lay. She could not have said for certain at that moment, but it seemed as though she saw a flash of bright color swirl around one of the pillars and vanish to the west and the forest. It did not seem to be quite human -- its speed was far too great to 19


have been so. And yet, it could not have been a trick of the light, necessarily. Her glasses were adjusted to a degree in which such a thing would have been impossible, she concluded. The land seemed full of strange things, things of which she had no comprehension. It would take time adjusting to the odd things around her. She had only just arrived in that new world three months ago, and surely there was much of which she had not even heard. Thus her wariness was even greater concerning the cloisonnĂŠ boxes. But there was no more time for such things. She would have to hurry even more to beat the setting sun, although the caramel pieces had given an energy to help along. Quickly she replaced the lid back on the tin, and plugged the flask of water tightly closed. All went back into her sack, with the glasses, and she hiked the pack back onto her shoulders, pulling it tight to her with the buckles on the straps. She knew that her time was short, to reach the summit. But for all she knew, the summit would not be her destination. Many crumbling old villas 20


lay beside the way, further down in niches and rolls on the mountain face. However, they were not nearly far enough. She believed that a full day's journey between herself and the villages would hardly be enough. Besides, even after a half day's travel, she had only managed to circle above the villages, and into the high mountains. Perhaps the path would wend her to the place she knew would be safe. The lands were so fair and old here, yet she was as used to them as she might have been at home, having just visited Greenland and Iceland. These places were netherworld to her -- places she never dreamed actually existed, actually lived beyond her own. And now she had really stumbled across one through a place she had trouble even describing. She had come upon it one day -- a volcano bed. She literally stumbled upon it, on her own. She recalled that one fine morning -- brisk and cool. She had simply been touring, decked out as a usual American tourist might, in cargoes and a thick cashmere sweater in dark wedgewood with Scottish 21


squares of red and sunflower and emerald around the neck. Her thick auburn hair coiled about her neck as the winds blew along the path where twenty others hiked, including their guide far up in front.

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Chapter 1

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She had come alone on this trip. The air was crisp and cold, and full of the scent of nearby ice and scrub trees. The crowd moved quickly over the valley. There seemed no need to stop and observe the few flowers and mosses scattered about the rocks. Their destination was a more prominent landmark. And while Mary kept along with the group, she had a habit of observing the sky and the ground more than the others. There was too much to 25


take in all at once, too much space to observe... she felt rather like she had just entered her favorite shop and there were too many interesting items to see all at once. The sky was deepest cleanest blue and the horizon too wide and mammoth to focus on the small rutted dirt trail ahead of her. Her dark ocean blue eyes scanned the far-off hills and crests as the valley seemed to grow grander and larger with every few steps she took. It had been a long hike, considering. Three hours into the interior... Little was spoken, for many seemed to be out of breath despite the enthusiasm and energy of their young guide. It seemed a chore to some, by the end of that three hours, to continue across the rugged terrain. However their happy leader, Dan-Joseph, continued on at a brisk pace, calling toward the tail of the group to not lag behind too far. Mary still walked in the last place, although she was not quite tired at that point. In the brochure she had read before signing up for the trip, she had noted that the hike was for 'experienced hikers' and she considered herself close enough. However, she lagged 26


because she wished to take note of the feathery little flowers on the rocks -hardy but cheerful and dancing in the cold on their tight green stems. They seemed happy to see her as they turned their bright little faces upward to the sun. She had to smile at them -each bright clump of blossoms near the trail. So far away from noise and commotion they were, happy to wave their airy petals in the wild winds of Iceland. “Keep it up, folks,” Dan-Joseph had shouted back to the end of the line in enthusiasm. “We're almost there. About another ten minutes, and we should reach that summit.” The wind carried his words back along the path to her. She had been looking forward to this approaching moment, since two summers ago. Her father had been a volcanologist for twenty years, and upon his retiring from the field research, Mary had taken on his work in a way. More than anything, she had inherited his love of the power of the world below. In fact, there was nothing she loved more than the seething crater of a ripe volcano. And so, two years ago, her father 27


had mentioned to her the possibility of traveling to Iceland for a unique opportunity of volcanic-study, apparently a very once-in-a-lifetimeopportunity type of experience. She had saved her nickels and dimes that summer and into the next, earning extra income by working at a sandwich shop in the afternoon between classes at the university, filling sodas and slapping cheese and roast beef on bread. And once the second autumn had come, she had earned enough for two months of preparatory work in Greenland and four months in Iceland. And here she was in the land of ice and fire, about to cross the brink. She could never be truly sure what happened that brisk morning. The flowers were still nodding their heads, the wind curled past her ears, and the bright blue of the sky peered happily over the group trailing across the land. Yet somehow, something was missed. Mary was slightly baffled by how the other members of the group managed to pass it over. Perhaps in their hurry to reach the summit above the crater, they had failed to notice it. It was a small bit of a chasm, however, surely Dan28


Joseph must have known about it. Such things couldn't be overlooked, particularly by an experienced guide out in the wild. The summit was too close now to stop and see what this outcropping was, however, Mary knew that if she didn't stop to see it, she would likely forget on the way back. She hesitated in the rocky path, wondering whether to continue on. Her decision was made when DanJoseph looked back over his shoulder from far ahead and yelled back to her. “Keep it up, Mary Pond! No time for stopping now. We're almost there!” And he turned back to his brisk pace with a huge grin on his face. Obviously this man lived for volcanoes. “Well,” Mary thought to herself, “I guess I can always wait until later.” Although her curiosity was quite strong, she picked up her pace, and soon passed most of the group in her anticipation of reaching the summit. She would finally be there to see what she had waited for so long. And as she walked forward, the valley opened before her suddenly, as if the world had suddenly fallen over the 29


edge, and below was the great chasm, a drop so deep, she feared she would fall through to Medieval hell. Her breath caught suddenly, as she drew herself up and back. It was nearly the sigh before the plunge that held her. And yet it was at that moment that she saw the light in the corner of her left eye, and upon turning, she saw from the same chasm over which she had just passed, a dim shining. It had passed under the rocky ridge on which she stood, and led around the edge of the crater, through the other side of the ridge, and on into the wilderness. It was a narrow chasm, a thin stretch of canyon rising up to the north a ways and then winding south a par, and even beyond the green hills far far south. It did not seem that deep, and yet the walls of its trench seemed oddly colored, and bright, as if it did not belong in a northern wasteland, but more in the steamy Mediterranean, or the wild Caribbean. It seemed quite an undefinable color, really, one she could hardly describe. But the shine which had caught her eye, no longer shone. She turned back a moment to see where her guide and fellow hikers had 30


gone. Yet there they were, still awing over the magnificence, not having moved since they came. Mary's mouth fell open a bit as she looked back to the small chasm. It seemed an unlikely thing to do at the time, but the trench seemed to mesmerize her. Before she had quite thought about it twice, she saw herself over the edge and with a slight thump she landed crouched a bit in the colored wilderness of a hollow path. A small wind came up the way and blew her eyes closed a bit. Both ways led on by crooked walls, and yet, one could see for miles beyond in either direction. For a brief worried moment, she thought it might have been a faultline. And yet the ground was too neat and hard-packed, as though ten thousand feet had shaped it over the centuries. And the walls of this oddity were too strangely yet beautifully colored to merit the sandy dirt of a faultline wall. How tempting it would be to run down that path to its end. Surely it led somewhere odd and fantastic. How could such a natural formation occur anywhere? She hesitated once again, 31


and looked upward to the sky. It seemed as blue as before, and only the curling wind rushed above. There were no sounds of the hiking crew nor even Dan-Joseph's excited voice, explaining the phenomenon of the volcano to the awed group. She drew her eyes back to the chasm before her. Both ways seemed to run off into eternity. She knew it would be foolish to continue. How silly it would be to wander off at such a time. And besides, she found herself somewhat frightened by the possibility of following such a long lonely path, even for a short distance. The airport in St. Louis and Chicago, even in Keflavik had been somewhat daunting for her. So had the meeting with the groups and teams in Greenland, the instructors, and the digging crews. She had been rather uncomfortable at each new meeting and in each new location. So certainly this opportunity to wander alone down such a chasm, brought her grief. Her curiosity was spiked, naturally, but she could not explore or bring cause for the hikers to come looking for her. There was no need to go; she had convinced 32


herself. But perhaps, just perhaps, she might come again if her curiosity encouraged her to find a better way to come back. She looked back up above her and took hold of a firm niche in the rock. And with several short heaves, she pulled herself back up to the ledge. There was the crew, still staring across the great divide, and discussing the wild beauty of the crater below. Mary wandered back, casually, so as not to spark interest in her fellow travelers. She did wonder if any had heard of it before, or had mapped it out. Surely Dan-Joseph, if no one else, was fully aware of its existence in the great valley. From the trail it did seem small and obscure, nearly as though it might have been nothing more than a slight crack in the ground. But if one left the path in only a few yards, the small crack opened up to its actual size. She almost preferred to wait until another time to ask. But her curiosity was spiked. They spent the next several hours viewing the mammoth crater. It was a spectacularly marvelous sight to behold. And Mary was even temporarily 33


tempted to loose interest in the crack behind her when the wealth of such a volcanic crater spread out before her. Several of the vulcanologists on the hike began to gather small samplings of the feathery flora about the rim and several ventured a short ways into the interior to observe the various rocks. Others, along for the pleasure and the experience of it all, choose the comfiest boulder available and sat to view the landscape and the dipping sun in the fresh cold sky. Mary did her own studies of the rocks and flowers. She took several camera shots of the crater, and actually found herself using three rolls, complete, by the end. Yet soon Dan-Joseph rounded them all together, for the sun was sinking rapidly in the western sky. And it seemed to Mary as they walked past, over the hills, that a gloaming of light came from the fissure, as fireflies on a warm midsummer's night back home. And as the moon rose full on arrival back in the town, she wondered if she hadn't, perhaps, dreamed the bright colors of the endless path. 34


Chapter 2

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It was that evening at the tavern that Mary was sitting at the trenchers with the others, listening to their descriptions of the fantastic crater to the new guests at the inn. Mary minded her own business, however, and kept to her wooden bowl of potatis klub -- kumla (potato dumplings), mysuostur (Icelandic whey cheese) and flowers. There was also fruksoppe (fruit soup) to liven the taste. She could not manage the salted lamb, but had a glass of 37


ginger ale with the meal. The stone floors echoed the laughter and music of the fine cool Icelandic evening, and the lanterns flickered brightly on the walls. There was dancing toward the other end of the tavern, but Mary had no desire to follow them to it. She became more intrigued with the conversation of the fisherman seated nearby where a slow-melting tallow candle lit their ancient sea-blown faces. They seemed kindly, yet hardened from the wind, and were deep in discussion of the latest catch on the high seas... But as the hour passed, and Mary pretended to be deeply involved in a thick book across from her meal, the fishermen began to discuss other more interesting tales. This time, they began to delve a little further back in time. Mary knew little Icelandic, but she did manage to gather a well-enough formed idea of what they spoke of, to come to the following. “Oslo... yes, it was back fifty years ago now.” “What?” “Fifty years ago... I saw it.” “Saw what?” 38


“There I was, walking over the brink... the volcano had only just stopped erupting three days before. The wind was cold... the lava flows were already cooled enough to get near... And to my left cracked a great fissure.” “You saw it crack, then?” “No, no... but I must have been one of the first to see it.” “Are you sure, Hans? I've never heard of a fissure over that way.” “Yes, a fissure it was... have not been there since. Perhaps it has disappeared back into the volcano, from where it came.” “In the volcano?” “It was near enough to the crater to have been part of it.” “Well, what was it like, Hans... how big?” “Must have been miles long... as far as I could tell.” Mary was obviously intrigued, but the conversation of the old men seemed to trail off with the arrival of another round of drinks and a plate of ponnukokurs (thin folded sugar-filled dessert pancakes). After a short time, Mary realized that they were not going 39


to speak on it again. She had not turned a page in her book for about ten minutes, so she set it aside, and concentrated on the last of her meal. She would look around for information on her own, she thought to herself. Perhaps there was some mention of it somewhere in the book shop in town. She decided to work on it the following day.

The next morning brought gray and wind. Mary knew that there was little hope of finding a volume of a history of the Icelandic terrain in the town. Although Icelanders were very detailed in the chronicling of their history, she knew that the formation of the land was not a common research subject, and held little interest with the locals, who were more interested in the fishing. The volcanoes and glaciers were popular topics when visitors or researchers were present, but aside from this, they were usually not discussed. Mary decided, however, to see what she could find, and following a quick wash and breakfast downstairs, she 40


hurried out to the shops on the street to see what she might find. It was her one day off those two weeks from the research office, and so she guarded her time carefully, in planning out where she might try first. She took a walk of about forty minutes or so, examining the few small bookstores through the glass windows, before settling on a small niche tucked in the back of a near alley. As she walked back, it seemed that a bazaar must have recently been held in the back-lot next door, for there were still bits of confetti paper and the remains of heavy wheel tracks where a carnival ride or stand might have sat. She wondered, in passing, what an Icelandic carnival might look like, and pictured it in her mind as she walked past to the fading doors of the book shop. The old iron ring of an ancient bell sounded from the door, as she stepped inside. Her heart thumped a bit, hoping she might go rather unnoticed upon entering. Thankfully, she only received a friendly smile from the kind old lady near the back of the shop, who was reshelving books. There were several 41


other customers deeply involved in their texts, or searching the shelves for a particular copy in mind. The shop was very old, Mary could tell, and the soft lamplight lit the many worn wooden shelves and the high eaves above. She wondered if the kindly old woman lived above, where there were several intricately carved wooden doors, very heavy and cleanly dusted. She settled to keeping quiet, as usual, and began to scan the titles in the first shelf to her right and in the back, keeping her face turned away from the center of the room. Somehow she needed anonymity even in this small, unassuming place. Later she wondered if that hadn't been partly the reason she ended up where she did. Had she been more vocal with the locals, even attempted to ask questions, or find out more about the great riven path, she might have thought twice before returning. But this was precisely her plan, and she would not deviate from it. Once her mind was set, there was no use trying to convince of the other side. She would not hear of it. Doing research on the subject was merely a way of buying 42


time before the next group, led by the voracious Dan-Joseph, passed through the great valley. But she admitted that the books were helpful. Her tolerant understanding of the Icelandic language aided her in managing several chapters of a text on mountain and cold island formations, but certainly not enough to provide any particulars on the certain fissure she had seen. She wondered if she might not stumble across some hand-written text at a museum. However, she knew she would not find the courage to ask to handle a piece for merely her own reading. She would need a pass from the research office and a good reason why. She let the thought rest from where it came. And as the evening came on, blowing a bit of raincloud in from the west, she placed the text back on the shelf and ducked out of the store after a thankful nod to the lady in the back. On her walk back, she decided she would sign herself up for the next hike come morning. Her mind was hardly on the quaint little sea-faring shops along the walk, however she did make a 43


passing mental note in her mind to begin shopping for gifts for everyone back home. A piece of lace for Mom, perhaps, a wool-knit sweater for Dad... And as she drifted off to sleep, visions of the great fissure hung before her eyes, and around it were the circus grounds, where folks from back home walked and rode the rides and ate large pretzels.

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Chapter 3

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The next morning proved to be another rainy spell. Mary enjoyed the crisp cold that ran through the droplets as she ducked along the sidewalk to the office down the road. She had conveniently forgotten any sort of umbrella upon leaving the States, and had not quite thought of buying one until absolutely necessary, meaning, if monsoon suddenly hit the north Atlantic, then she might consider. But soon she arrived, somewhat 47


damp, and her hair slightly stringy. She adjusted herself in the powder room before the mirror, and walked past the quiet offices to the back desk. Sitting there on the top, was the sign-up -- all the openings available for the next climb to the volcano. Mary sighed a bit with satisfaction upon seeing it, for there was one scheduled the very next afternoon -- a Friday excursion. Thankfully, she thought to herself, she could book that time as research, and she would return with several samples. For she had her eye on examining the Dropar near the mouth of the crater itself, regardless of whether or not the fissure might be seen again. It seemed like the day passed rather slowly. Mary did her work -- nothing but checking papers and noting pieces in the catalog department -- with little interest besides the thought of venturing out for more such blossoms and bits or rock the following day, with greater purposes in addition. And so it was settled. It was an independent hike through the same valley, meaning Dan-Joseph would only come along as a guide when 48


necessary. If so desired, hikers could branch off on their own. As she signed her name carefully on the form, a slight tingle of excitement ran through her spine, a bit of a shiver. She couldn't say exactly why it was a little cold as it ran through. She was, honestly, not thinking about the shiver. Her mind was more on preparation. In her room that evening, she pulled her pack together. She did not know what to prepare for in particular. Her object was not to stay more than an hour, although she did not want to invite suspicion by bringing along a bulging pack with gear she was not entirely sure she would need. Rope was always a handy tool in situations such as those, she considered. She had had no difficulty getting in or out of the path. However, it might sink deeper into the ground the further she went. And so she coiled the rope tightly and slipped it in, with a small pack of excavation tools given to her on her last birthday (never needed until then, perhaps). They still sparkled with freshness, all the metal shovel-scooped ends and picks gleaming in the light of her bedstead lamp. There were also delicate silken 49


brushes and thick horse-hair brushes. Perhaps there were artifacts buried there along that path. Naturally, she would not be allowed to remove anything, but there was always the chance she might find something worth unearthing enough to see what it was. This would also call for a small tarp to protect the partially-revealed artifacts from the elements. Then there was a small lunch she would pick up from the little deli-shop on the way out. Her camera came next, and by then her pack was quite heavy enough. Her passport, extra money, and credit card, were packed tightly and locked in the safe box in her closet. She seemed set for the day ahead. As she set her pack aside and crawled into bed, she pulled the warm blanket snugly around her, and settled her head on the pillow. Thoughts came back to her of home and the hot July they must have had without her while she was in Greenland at the beginning. She would have missed the fireworks, iced lemonade, and warm summer evenings watching the fireflies. And a bit of a loneliness came over her as she lay there. Between wakefulness and sleep 50


she somehow drifted between the colors of home and the craggy wilderness of her new discovery. Morning came swiftly and she was up with the rosy dawn. Before few were mingling in the tavern hall, she picked up a hearty-looking pastry on a thin rice-paper napkin for her breakfast. There would be no time for fruit that morning. But the deli had already opened and her sandwiches prepared with care by the little old lady there. They could barely communicate with one another, as she was Norwegian, and Mary knew little if anything useful in the language. And then she was off to the meeting point where Dan-Joseph and several others were already gathered. The morning promised fine weather, with enough of the storm cloud above to keep the sun hidden from a good portion of the sky. Excitement grew in Mary, although she knew that there was far more than just excitement roaming inside. There was a small fear there, which she attempted to ignore. For she knew if she listened to it, it would turn her around. Dan-Joseph seemed quite cheerful 51


that morning, enthusiastic to be departing. The wind was blowing a good bit, and so Mary had pulled on a warm knit cap before leaving. She hoped that he would fail to recognize her, bundled up in her parka, scarf, and cap. He led so many tours daily, she was hopeful he would not see who she was. She kept close in the middle of the crowd, careful not to draw suspicion from the other eager travelers. Soon the fifty or so hikers had gathered at the side of the building, and Dan-Joseph announced that it was time to see the volcano. A bit of a hearty cheer went up from the folk around her, as most were amateur scientists, anxious for their first glimpse of the sleeping crater. Mary smiled at their enthusiasm, and headed out with them under the fresh morning sky. Her walking staff pounded in the hard earth, and with each step, the uncertainty of her mission seemed to rise a little lighter and higher above her mind. “Perhaps,” she thought, “there is nothing I should be worried about. It is only a path, and I may get in as easily as I can get out. If only Dan-Joseph 52


does not notice.� Mary had good reason to worry that someone may follow her. The crevice was so near the path, she knew that all it would take would be for someone to look hard to their left, and there it would be -- stretched out across the horizon -a thin black line. And only several dozen yards over, it would open up to reveal how long and unusual it really was. She could only hope the volcano would attract more attention than usual that fair morning. Her hopes were given wings. DanJoseph seemed to be more than usually enthralled with his eager group that morning. As a guide, he could not be more enthusiastic about his job. And this was greatly to Mary's advantage. For as the group neared the crater, it appeared that they were all highly involved in reaching the summit before the rest of their fellow hikers. Before Mary realized what had happened, a virtual stampede had developed, and she was soon lost in the hard dust of their foot-tracks. Before any of the hikers had the slightest chance to turn about and see her, which was hardly likely, she had crossed over to the trail 53


to her left and was soon running across the valley as quickly as she possibly could. Once out of sight, her pace still did not slow. The wind was at her back. Then far off in the still late morning light, she saw it -- a volcanic glow from the fissure -- like fireflies in the night. She kept running, faster and faster, until she reached the hill right above. And there she stopped. It was only a small hill, but high enough to see what lay beyond. The light was unlike any she had ever seen, and the walls inside were the same roving color, indescribable, she had seen the few days before. And this time, she was only slightly afraid of what lay within that road. A tingle grew through her shoulders, causing her to shiver only a little. And she continued forward. Within moments, she was at the edge. And there it was -- the great road -- stretching far off and away into the distance, both ways. It was mostly like a sunken track, where trains no longer whistled. She looked back around her. Far off was the group of hikers and Dan-Joseph, all looking into the great 54


crater. She turned back to the fissure, and with one hop, landed over the edge onto the worn path. Her feet fell firmly, and her back straightened as her knapsack fell to the side. There it was again -- the same indescribable color light which seemed to come from nowhere. And as she stood there, breathing heavily from her last run, the sky seemed to turn a shade brighter in its gray, and a cool wind brushed toward her from the valley. She closed her eyes against it as it played with her hair a moment, and was gone. “Well then,” she almost whispered to herself, “here it is.” She hoisted the pack, back up onto her shoulders and looked toward the far north. There the crater lay. Turning to the south, she saw far off, the same path, running near straight for many miles until it all but disappeared from sight. Mary could not travel west. Somehow, somewhere inside, mystery and intrigue had always called her to the east. And to go north was to go west. However, she knew that to go south would bring her to the sea. The crater in the north led her beyond, past 55


the ice and snow, and fire, to a place she might wish to see more than the sea. She hesitated more than she would have liked. And yet the cool wind had come from the north, and the north called her more than the south. The sea would wait. She would travel north. With a sharp turn on the smooth path, she had left, with the wind against her, and the sea to her back, to search out the unknown.

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Chapter 4

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58


It is hard to say exactly how the rest all came about. Perhaps this is a disappointment to the reader, as novels usually seem to skip the descriptions of the best parts, where someone disappears, transforms, or some unearthly spectacularem fails to fill the page. However, there are times where words may just not be enough to explain what occurs. And such was the case here. Although let it be said -Mary herself could hardly recall after the fact, how and what had actually 59


happened. There she was along the path, walking as normal toward the north, for several hours. She knew to herself, that somehow she must run into the crater eventually. But in the meantime, her eyes scanned the walls which she passed most hurriedly, for any sign of something unusual or interesting clinging there. But within three hours of rapid walking, she did, indeed, seem to see the crater, far off. And yet she knew that at such an angle, she should have reached it long ago. Her interest was certainly taken now, though she knew that starting back would have been far wiser. Half an hour later, she arrived within several dozen yards of the opening. And it was then that she realized the crater was far different from the one on which Dan-Joseph loved to take his tourists. The crater before her was unlike anything she had ever seen -there it spread out for as far as the eye would reach. Only with hard squinting could she see the other side. Rolling green hills lay within, villages, lakes, and roads. All seemed quiet, until she 60


saw there were people far below. And a shepherd's horn could be heard far off. Bells of sheep rang directly below, where a flock grazed hundreds of feet, far down. Mary was speechless. And this is the part, beyond capable of description, for in these next few moments, she appeared to have transversed the glass wall which held her from one world and kept her in the first. It was during those moments, she could have hardly told you herself, how she suddenly found herself in an entirely different place than her well-known Earth. She had, in fact, little idea where she was. And the thought frightened her in a wave, and passed. The valley stretched before her and the path behind her was open to Iceland as before. There was no indication she had transversed one world to another, but she knew there was no such valley, or village, or enormous expanse on the island. She took a step back. Nothing happened. She took another step back, and another. She turned around and walked back several yards. She turned around to face the village, and it was gone. 61


There before her was only the whistling wind of the craggy crater. She could not believe her eyes, and yet somehow, she was not mystified. As a young girl she had heard many tales of unexplained phenomenon, of ghosts and demons and other creatures of dimensions that were rumored to exist. And yet she figured that somehow, even were a glass to levitate above her head during dinner and settle back down next to her plate, she would not become frightened or crazy with the thought of its unnaturalness. Somehow, she would go on with her meal, and mention it casually later, or not at all. And so, as she stared ahead at the blank rocks, she walked forward again, this time keeping her eye on the crater ahead. And this time... as she walked, the village did reappear once more, melting into her vision, until she could hardly tell when the change had occurred, and between which steps. She looked carefully at the rock walls from one side and the next, attempting to discover how the illusion had taken place. Whether there was some force or lock that changed her vision as she walked 62


from one side to the next across the path. There was nothing to be done but to go forward. And yet she was quite distraught at the idea of moving ahead without establishing some sort of anchor with her own world. Naturally this phenomenon was explainable, but in case something should not allow her to retrace her steps, she thought of how she might mark her path for anyone wishing to find where she had gone. She dug into her satchel and rummaged for anything of bright use. Her fingers found a small, smooth piece and she pulled it out to the light. It was a brightly painted piece of wood -- a magnet -- of brightest yellow with red buds and green leaves. A saying in Icelandic was written across the front -a complimentary gift from the hotel which she had found on the bedside table with a note. She decided such a token was better to be used than any other small valuable she might be carrying with her. And so from where she stood, she tossed the piece through the invisible haze and there it landed with a small clink on the floor of the canyon. 63


She turned back to where her gaze still beheld the village below. She knew that it was very likely she had come across some modern town and that the odd haze was only a strange figment of her vision or an illusion of sorts. However, she was determined to make the best of where she stood. And for some reason, she was not frightened to continue into the great valley below her. It seemed a dream, the whole descent. And Mary was not quite sure, at times, that it wasn't, looking back on it all. Suddenly her senses were penetrated in a keen way. The air smelled so fresh, it seemed to disorient her. It was not in a bad sort of way, but the air seemed full of fresh peppermint, as though the valley was sown with mint leaves. Perhaps it was, she thought, to herself. The path was treacherous at parts. The valley was green and vibrant, as though fueled by subterranean volcanic activity. For the air was not cold. It had nearly a warmth to it. She pressed on down the path, made treacherous at times by its rocky stubble here and there. Sometimes the rocks were camouflaged by neatly tucked mosses and grains. For, yes, 64


amidst the usual mosses and lichens, grew clumps of small grains. Barley, mostly. Mary was surprised to see it and wondered if she saw it correctly. But she was sure of it. The sky was still gray. Nothing of its nature had changed. Even the bed of flora in the valley and the rocky crags of the cliffs and mountains seemed normal to her as she walked comfortably down the path. Birds sung familiar songs from the trees in the forest a league or so below and the path seemed harmless but for the rocks. But as Mary continued farther down, she noted that some of the plants did, indeed, seem to change their nature. At first it was subtle. The coloring changed here and there, lightly, of familiar plants. But then she noticed additions to the other usual plants. She began to see miniature (what seemed to be) apricots, growing from small bushes along the way. Pink peppercorns grew from vines. Perhaps they weren't peppercorns. She did not trust her knowledge of plants enough to tell. But then she thought she saw a blue ash with leaves actually tinted ever-so-slightly, blue. And she began to wonder. Perhaps she was too 65


tired to be startled by the idea that she had passed into another world of sorts. The wildlife seemed to shimmer with a sparkling freshness that even Iceland could not possess. At one point in her journey, she gazed back up the incline from whence she had come. It seemed so far up by that time. She sighed and glanced at her watch. Only an hour had passed since her descent, however it seemed as though it had been much longer. She decided to rest. But as she sat down she realized that if she were to wait, she knew she would change her mind and walk back upward before she might lose track of the real country above. She hesitated, but then continued. After all, the walking was easy and she knew that night would come fast. “Come now, Mary,” she counseled herself. “After all, God makes all sorts of things. Why not these strange places as well? Even if there were other worlds, it doesn't go to say that they do not know about Jesus either.” She thought over these things, for they disturbed her. She realized that all too often, she was not startled enough over oddities and unnatural 66


occurrences. What was there to be alarmed of? There was always an explanation whether she knew about it, or only God knew about it. That was all she needed to care about. “Who says I must have an answer for everything anyway?” she cut out loud from her thoughts. A little squirrel ran across her path. Indeed, he was so small, that she thought it was marvelous. From head to tail, he might have spanned her index finger. He was black, through and through. He was followed by a little white bunny of the same size -- so soft and pure white that it glistened like untouched fresh snow on a December morning. And both were chased by a panda bear of the same size, a red panda. The panda seemed to run along rather sluggishly, for he had sweet herbs in his mouth and was munching. Somehow this sight did not surprise Mary. She only laughed, for it seemed as though the tiny creatures were laughing amongst themselves as they chased each other across the path. They seemed so soft and cuddly -- all three like little pillows. “What has happened here?” she 67


asked. “Would God really have created such another place? How is this going to be possible? I could always be dreaming, I suppose, but it does not seem like a dream. Not even the sort of dream that is the most real. I wonder how safe it is for me to be here.” She watched the pudgy little creatures lob off in the herbs along the path, and she had to smile. “Where am I going?” she asked herself. “What have I done coming here? Surely this is all a great misunderstanding in my mind. And yet, I am not insane, am I?” She sat there on the path watching the loping trail of a red butterfly whisper down the valley from the branch above her head. “Should I go back?” she thought to herself. The answer came in the form of a rumble above her head. Turning, she saw that faintly, above her, was a mess of gray cloud which had gathered. Mary hurried to her feet. There was a bit of a frightful storm descending upon the valley. And to fall back above the village from whence she had come would have placed her in the middle of the cloud 68


itself where lightening could already be seen, shuddering with the thunder. Mary decided that a stout walking stick would be in good order, and she quickly removed such a weathered piece from alongside the trail. “Good enough,� she thought to herself, grateful for not having had to wrench one off a strong tree. And soon she found herself racing with the strong wind which was now blowing quite strongly down the mountain face. She only hoped she might reach the valley before the storm broke loose. And indeed, her descent was rapid. She thought it odd that she had not yet taken a tumble as her speed began to increase, she thought. The stick seemed only necessary to steer her clear of a boulder or shrub from time to time, for the road did not curve very often. The thunder cracked above the great gray dim and Mary had a distinct wish that she was curled up at the hotel with a cup of tea in the lounge, amongst the other excavators of the journey, an hour before dinner, perhaps, with a good book. But such was obviously not the case. And the 69


path had become almost murky with a strange mist from the storm. She began to stumble more and soon lost pace. It slowed to a quick walk as she continued forward, only hoping she might not take a false step off the cliff. It was more of an unconscious hope than anything else, for her one intent now, was to find the light buried deep in the valley. It seemed awhile before she saw anything else in the darkness. Oddly, though, she was not frightened by it. She simply continued onward, down the path, carefully. “Where next?� she thought aloud. A few moments later, however, she came around another bend in the path, where enough light was left just to see several yards ahead. And there, below her, only a small distance, were the lights of the village she had seen before, from above. Somehow the mist had utterly obscured the village during her descent. And she would have paused a spell to watch over the beauty of the lights, however, another rumble from the clouds above, increased her flight downwards. Suddenly, she stopped short and 70


held her place. The rain had just begun to fall. She could hear it high up in the air, thundering against the high mountains. But she could hear it coming. She held the weathered stick tight in her right hand and stood straight ahead of her. It was a lighted boulevard, stretching a good distance down from where she stood. She must have been on the very outskirts of the village, which seemed quite large. There was nothing sci-fi about the place whatsoever, and nothing primitive either, really. It was certainly not a modern town, but almost the sort of place she could envision in a story book -- a beautiful place. And somehow she knew it was a harmless place. The rain was coming. But suddenly, she thought she saw a flicker of light, and, yes, perhaps a shadow far down the way. The flicker had come from a barn-like building toward the square -perhaps even a mile down. But the rain was thundering closer and it suddenly hit. It was not a hard rain, but it was a cold rain. Mary decided that she would have to run for cover. But she stood there a few short minutes, allowing the cold rain to soak through her hands. 71


Her poncho was rather waterproof and so was her satchel. She wore a jumpsuit of black and red, and it too was waterproofed. But she could feel the cold and it bit her cheeks. And she began to run toward the light, determinedly. Soon, she found that she had arrived at the great building. But there was music playing inside -- the sort of music one might have heard played at an old dance -- sweet and lively, almost a little tart at times, which was the only way she could describe it. And the great door of the barn was opened, wide. A glow of light emanated from it, and by the sound murmuring and a great crackling, Mary could tell that a great number of people were gathered inside and that a fire blazed from within. She placed a step forward in the now-wet mud of the streets. Several more brought her to the opening of the barn and with two more, she was inside the doorway of the barn. She wasn't sure what all happened next upon recounting, but fortunately for us, we may see it revealed in third person. There was a gasp all around and a small cry or two from the little ones. 72


Mary's breathing was heavy and she knew she must pull the hood away from her face. She could see only the floor which was strewn with corn husks. And with a wet hand, she pulled back the hood as pools of water splashed about her feet. One hand lay clenched on her walking stick. She looked about her and saw what surprised her greatly. She had walked into a picture of the past; she was at a corn husking from the old days. Musicians stood poised in the corner with violins and mandolins. There were several long wooden tables set up where food and drink were being served. Great piles of orange pumpkins and gourds lay strewn about in various parts of the barn. And nearly five hundred people stared at her, normal people such as herself. But their clothes were not gray as that of the Puritans. Rather, they were dressed in deep sea blues, rich reds, and forest greens. And the women's hair was done up with little jeweled clips and some with flowers. There was nothing drab nor extravagant about their look. Mary was only ever so embarrassed by the silence and stood there with her 73


jumpsuit beginning to leak in puddles around her feet. It seemed as though it might be an age before anyone would speak. She gulped and opened her mouth to speak. However, her words were cut short from the sudden fright of the moment, and nothing came out. Fortunately, it was at that moment that her gulp was overruled by the speech of another. She looked up to see a Puritan-looking figure of a man somewhere in his early forties, speaking to her as he walked forward. Several other men followed. “Greetings, madam,” he spoke kindly. “Welcome to our celebration. Please, join us. We will bring you warm clothing.” Mary sighed a little with relief to herself. The man who had just spoken was quite sincere with concern for her well-being in a few mere sentences. She swallowed hard again. “Thank you, sir, but I believe that I must explain to you my identity and my presence here.” The gentlemen bowed to her as a young woman from the assemblage brought her a warm cloak. Mary absently noted that the cloak had come 74


from the shoulders of the young woman. “Thank you,” Mary said as she pulled the cloak tight. “You are welcome,” the woman replied. “My name is Miss Honey.” Mary nodded and smiled uncomfortably, looking around those gathered at the hall. And yet her appearance did not falter or give hint that she might be unnerved. “My name is Mary,” she began slowly. “This morning I was out walking on the plains of Iceland. I found a trench in the valley where I walked and followed it a great distance. At one point, I passed through a mist which lay in my path, and on the other side of this mist I saw your village below in another great valley. I thought myself to have entered another world. The rain came quickly down from the mountains; I entered here in order to escape it. And so I am at your mercy as far as to understand where I have happened upon.” She stopped talking and waited for an answer. The gentleman smiled. “Ah, it has been long, madam, since we have heard from the outside world. 75


Fifty years since mention of Iceland has been made. The last outsider came then and lived with us until his departure, God rest his soul. You are, indeed, in another sort of world. This does not seem to frighten you, which is good and excellent. For God made many things of which we are unaware, all a part of His great plan.” “What religion are you?” Mary asked. “We believe in the God of Abraham. We believe in the same Bible, the same Christ, of your world, God incarnate. That does not change from world to world. This cannot be changed.” Mary thought this was a terribly interesting idea. “But Christ was only crucified on earth. He could not be crucified twice or twenty, or nine hundred times...” Mary started, and then became embarrassed at her speech. “No, He was not crucified twice. He was only crucified once, but we have heard of Him and we believe Him.” Mary thought it most odd that she already found herself in such a discussion within a mere few minutes of her arrival. 76


“I'm sorry,” she said, suddenly feeling the need to sit down. “I think I'm a little bit in shock.” She sat quickly there on the wooden floorboard, much harder than she had intended. But her head seemed to shake, as though her reality were marbles being shaken in a can. But she did not sit long there in a puddle of cold rain. Several ladies had come next to her and helped her into a chair by the fire. The gentleman who had bowed to her encouraged the musicians to continue playing and after several more minutes had passed, the rest of the crowd seemed content enough to get back to their dancing and cornshucking. But the rain, the running, the shock of such strange things, had suddenly taken its toll on Mary. Her eyes were closing against the music and the color, and a peaceful gray, then... sleep.

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Chapter 5

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80


Mary's eyes opened some time later against a blue haze. It swirled in dark grays in front of her. In silvers and sapphires and the grays of a dark sea. She looked at it for quite some time, unable to move her gaze from it. “Peaceful, is it not?� said a voice. Mary turned around. She quickly noticed that the whole room was the same colors. Moving colors, swirling softly and slowly about each other. Living paint. 81


“It is beautiful,” she said, before she even knew who had asked her the question. “What is it?” “Sea mist.” “Sea mist...” Mary repeated, somehow still not caring about where the voice was coming from. “Do you see me, Mary?” She felt compelled, then, to look for the voice. And then, as she turned around, she began to realize that she was resting on a round, cushioned pad in the center of the floor. At least she had thought it was the center, until she adjusted her eyes, and realized that it was actually a very long gallery, extending far away from her. And in its center, as her eyes cleared even more, she could see a collection of marble statues, all white, lined up in the center of the gallery to the very end of the extensive hall. But she could see no one. “I don't see you yet,” she said. “Where are you?” “Here.” Mary turned around once again, standing up, on rather trembling legs, to see further down the gallery. “I still don't see you.” 82


“There... Does that help?” “Oh, yes. Yes, that's better.” A figure slowly emerged from the walls of sea mist. It was Miss Honey from the night before. At least, Mary hoped it was still the night before. “You were hidden so well,” said Mary, faltering for words. “Your eyes are still adjusting.” “Adjusting... Have I been asleep?” “In a way. Your system is becoming use to a new place.” “How long has it been?” “A few hours.” “Oh, good. I was hoping I hadn't been asleep for very long. I need to get back. There's probably a search party out already.” Miss Honey smiled, her golden hair wrapped up at the back of her neck. “It would not do to leave just yet,” she replied kindly. “The effects will linger with you for a little while. And, fortunately for you, in your world, time has... in a way of speaking, stopped for you.” “I hoped that would be the case,” Mary thought to herself. “Well, I don't want to be a bother..” she started, aloud. 83


Miss Honey shook her head. “No trouble whatsoever,” she said. “We let you stay here, in the museum, one of the most quiet places. But, if you are feeling better, I will take you for some breakfast.” Mary started to follow Miss Honey back down the long gallery. And then Miss Honey waited a moment until Mary was walking beside her. “You probably have many questions,” she said. “Too many to know where to begin,” said Mary, “even if I was convinced this was all a dream.” “And you are not convinced?” “Not entirely. There are too many things about it that are real. Sometimes dreams are too real. And reality seems less so.” “An interesting observation,” Miss Honey replied with great calm. “And because you seem more inclined to believe that this world is as real as we say it is...” she smiled, “then I would like to assure you that breakfast will be very tasteful and satisfying.” “That's good to know,” Mary replied. “I somehow don't remember the last time that I had any food...” 84


By this time, they had reached the end of the long gallery. And Mary realized that the sun was coming up, just through the open door. The doors were both made of wood and stained the brightest, yet deepest shade of blue she had ever seen. And pressed into them were polished brass ornaments. As she passed through these doors, the sunlight fell on her face, crafting a symphony of colors and calming warmth over her eyes. The light seemed less harsh, even, than the Icelandic sun. And full of different colors and sounds, in a way. “The breakfast hall is just there,” said Miss Honey, pointing a short ways down the path. “Does everyone eat there?” Mary asked, noting the surge of peasants begin their walk to the breakfast hall. “Yes. It is a community breakfast hall.” “What about the other meals?” “There is also a lunch hall. And a supper hall. A dinner hall for the fourth meal.” “We only have three meals back home...” Mary trailed off. “There are many, what I think you 85


would call, subtle, differences between our world, and yours,” said Miss Honey. “But I cannot think that you will not be at least somewhat very surprised at the things in store for you here.” “In store for me?” Mary asked. “What do you mean?” But it was at that moment that a long, low horn was heard lowing above the mountain, and Miss Honey indicated to Mary that the horn meant the hour of breakfast had begun. Mary followed her through the large wood pillars at the front of the breakfast hall. They were large enough to dwarf a redwood back in her world, and they were more red than the redwoods and had been sanded to a silky smoothness, then carved in weaves from the base to the very top, so far above her. They had not been painted or stained. And there were four rows of the pillars before they reached the interior of the hall. There were no walls to the breakfast hall. It was all open to the cool winds of the morning. Mary began to notice that nearly every person who entered the hall carried a book with them. “Reading is encouraged during the 86


breakfast hours,” said Miss Honey. “A way to cleanse the mind of night thought, which is recorded separately, and revive ideas for the day.” “Night thought?” “Images during sleep. These images are cataloged throughout the night and recorded into the case of worlds.” “The case of worlds...” Mary repeated. “That is what you will be doing while you are here,” said Miss Honey. “We are in need of your talents.” “Talents?” But this time, Mary kept her thoughts to herself and waited to see what would happen. For it was time to take her food. Mary could not have very well explained what it was that sat before her on the tables. But it looked good. Set up very much like a buffet, the one longtable held wooden bleachers filled with numerous thin glass pitchers. Each pitcher held a drink of a different tint. Perhaps hundreds of different pitchers. And all were kept cold with a cube of ice underneath each. “The sweet juices of fruits,” Miss Honey explained. “From every fruit 87


available in the valley.� And Mary could not understand the names of a single fruit, written in a very fine hand on a card under each pitcher. What came next seemed more familiar: baskets of quails eggs, kept cooked in their speckled shells. Although the shells were bright blue, speckled in dark brown. Then sweet goods, none of which she recognized. They were all twisted into unusual knots, and very hot and buttered with a sort of honied spread. Finally, there was meat carved off a large wooden board, which Mary identified as a combination of ham and roast beef in flavor, but very soft to slice, which was offered with a sort of hot white cream mixed with red peppercorns. Mary took her plate, carved, it would seem of the same red wood that the pillars had been made. And a small, thin glass of the juice -- a dark sort of color that looked as though it might be a flavor similar to that of blackberry. Then she followed Miss Honey to a seat at the far end of one of the longtables. For the next hour, they sat together, 88


eating, surrounded by the many readers, all with books of strange texts, and many of the texts different from one another. “Do you want me to do something for you while I am here?” Mary asked softly, wondering if, perhaps, she wasn't meant to speak at all. But Miss Honey did not seem to mind. “Yes,” she replied just as quietly. “You will find that you will be much a curiosity over these next days, if you are to remain with us in the outside.. but they will slowly become used to your presence here when they understand your work.” “What work?” “You will see,” said Miss Honey. “Once you have finished your breakfast, I will take you to the library.” Mary did not ask any further questions. It all seemed too quiet, and there was nothing else she could ask that would not need a very long explanation. And so she continued to cut into her meat, which she found to be very good. And she watched the faces of the many present there, studying with great intent and emotion 89


of the face -- their morning readings. Once the meal had come to an end, the many gathered there began to speak amongst themselves more freely. And some seemed to walk off together towards the mountains. While others returned to the heart of the village. “Follow me,” Miss Honey instructed. It was a longer walk than Mary had anticipated. But the path was straight, not up into the mountains where many of the villagers seemed to be going. “What do they do up there?” Mary asked. “Many of them take care of the mountain crops,” said Miss Honey in her calm manner as usual. “Cotton. Maize. And plums.” “So we do have some similarities,” Mary thought to herself. “Will I be helping with the crops as well?” Mary asked, wondering why she asked the question in the first place. “Wait and see,” replied Miss Honey, a little smile tempting its way through her serene face. Mary had little idea as to what time of the morning it was. Who could say whether or not these villagers ate at the breakfast hours of Earth, whether their 90


sun rose at the same hours of Earth, whether their hours were the same, whether she was still on Earth. But she was not going to ask any further questions. Finally, at the end of the path, leading out of the village, Miss Honey stopped in front of the last of the buildings. But it wasn't an ordinary sort of building. It was rounded on all sides and seemed to be painted over in a sort of tarnished silver enamel. It didn't seem to fit with the other buildings, most of them in the old French and German style. “Here we are,” said Miss Honey, directing an arm to the door. “I cannot go in. When you enter, choose carefully. We may meet again, Mary Pond...” “Choose carefully...” Mary repeated to herself. But Miss Honey had already left. Mary hesitated. The door didn't seem to be like a normal sort of door. But Miss Honey had told her to go in. And she didn't have any very good reason not to trust her... as much as she could hope to trust someone in a strange sort of world. 91


She laid her hand on the place where it seemed a door should have been. There was, indeed, a rounded groove, hardly noticeable. But it was there. Smooth as marble. And as she placed a finger on top of the circle, it seemed to move, through the enamel. As if the circle was a piece of solid in a liquid. Mary didn't know what to do with the circle, but she continued to spin it through the silver bath, because it was almost mesmerizing. Then she felt something snap. And, as if the little circle had found its resting place, the circle disappeared and sank into the liquid. And, as if it had been planned all along, the outline of a door appeared, lit with a bright white light through the silver. Mary decided that hesitations were no longer necessary, and laid a hand to the door, which slid backward, and then into the wall. She stepped through into the low light of the room, and as she did so, the molten doors slipped shut behind her, sealed once again into the wall. Mary caught her breath for a small moment. 92


She had tried to expect a variety of things that she might see within these doors. But not this. The walls of the building soared upward, higher than Mary had thought they looked from the path outside. Up and up and up, lit by the light of glass to the outdoors. And there had seemed to be no windows before... But what was more marvelous, even, to Mary, than the unexpected dimensions of this building, was what was housed therein. Hundreds. No, maybe thousands of them. Little firelights. Like little fireflies at home. Like a whisper of light. All of them flying from one side of the tremendous stucture to the other... opening and retrieving and closing. In perfect silence but for the airy fluttering of their silk wings. And what were they opening and shutting so quietly, over and over and over? Little drawers! Mary looked closely. The wisps of lights were almost unseeable when standing alone. But together they made a whirling cloud of soft light. And, yes, 93


they did, indeed, seem to be opening the little drawers, pulling out little things. Little unidentifiable things. So small they could hardly be seen. And then they would close the drawers and bring their tiniest of treasures to another drawer, open it, carefully lay the little thing inside, and close it again. And so the process would continue... But these drawers... Mary could hardly understand it. Each drawer was made of wood. Well worn. And each drawer was stained a different color. But these drawers could not have been larger than two centimeters across and one centimeter tall. And each drawer was fixed with a very little metal handle. But the collection of these drawers together... If there were, perhaps, thousands of fireflights, there were millions, more likely billions... or even trillions... of these drawers. Hundreds of miles into the air, perhaps these drawers reached, in their cathedral of light. It took Mary's breath away to watch it. And though she could hardly know what was there inside the drawers, it seemed as if she was soon to find out. 94


She could not ask these little wisps of light what they busied themselves at for so long. Although capable, it seemed, of intelligent work, they were too small a thing to understand. Even if they possessed faces and speech. The voice of a thing so small could never be understood. Mary still had not taken step further into that room. The little firelights seemed to not notice her presence. Or if they did, it was not an unusual thing, and the went about their work as before. She was given the strangest, the greatest, urge to pull open one of those drawers. She wanted to so badly. But she knew that she shouldn't. Or should she? Miss Honey had given her no instruction. No suggestions. No advice. Nothing. Maybe, just maybe, she was meant to open one of these drawers to find out. If she didn't open one of them, she could wait there for a very long time and nothing would likely change. It seemed a very great possibility that these little lights had been at this work with no rest for centuries. Perhaps even longer. She had to do something. 95


Even if it was just to take a peak... The tread of her foot on the floor... red tiles, smoothed, worn, rough at the edges. Peasant tiles. It was the lightest of steps. And still the firelights went about their business. She didn't know which drawer to choose. She could have walked across to the other side of that hollowed, expansive gallery to find a drawer there among the tens of thousands. But she didn't. She set her hand out to the first drawer that her eyes distinguished. It was stained dark, like the color of eggplant. And its tiny knob was silver. She set two fingers to it and carefully, ever so carefully...

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Chapter 6

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When she first opened the drawer, Mary could not have told anyone what it was that she saw in there. Maybe not even the villagers could have described it. There were things in there for which no language had any sort of correct description. Marvelous things. Pulsing things, lighted things, colored things, unknown textures and shapes and... everything about it was alien and beautiful. And Mary didn't 99


know what to do. She wasn't even sure if these immaculately tiny things could be touched or picked up by human hands. And yet the firelights had little trouble. Mary extended two fingers into the box, that little drawer in the wall. If, perhaps, she were just to pick up one of them. At least try to pick it up and hold it for a few seconds. Try to wrap her mind around what it was, this beautiful little thing... No sooner had she done so, and Mary was gone. Utterly vanished. She was still with herself, but not in that same peaceful cathedral of drawers and firelights. No, she was in another place entirely. Some place foreign, more foreign than the world back... there. It took her several moments for her eyes to adjust properly. But then, it all seemed to make sense, merging together in front of her eyes -- and as it did, it seemed somewhat more familiar than she had at first anticipated, and yet still so strange and faraway... 100


It was a room, rounded on all sides, as though it might be the base of a tower. The windows were spaced evenly around on three sides, looking out toward a countryside of valley and vineyards... And the room itself -- it was decorated in a sort of royal French style, the best way that Mary could describe it in her mind. A very rich look about it all with golds and light yellows and creams and embellishments on finely crafter furniture and draperies and hangings. “Is this a form of time machine?� Mary thought to herself. Perhaps she had been escorted to France in an earlier day, at the end of the 18th century, perhaps... maybe. Mary looked down in her hand. There it was still... that little unexplainable thing. Perhaps... sometimes it looked to her as if it were the tiniest of books. The tiniest of books with thousands of pages... But maybe it wasn't really a book at all. There was no way of truly telling. She switched it to her other hand, and then, just as soon as she had arrived, she had returned. She was once again in the 101


sanctuary of the firelights. Alone. She rubbed at her eyes, and waited a few moments. Nothing else was happening. With great care, she laid the tiny alteration of space and time back in its box, and carefully pushed the drawer back into the wall. What was this strangeness? Had she just traveled through time? Was it another world? Maybe she should try to go back, talk to someone. But she hadn't seen anyone there. The furniture and the room had been pristine. Someone must have cleaned it... Could all of these drawers contain such worlds? If each drawer held a thousand worlds -- and this seemed likely -- how many worlds, piled one on top of another could there be? And why were the firelghts switching them to different drawers? Did the composition alter depending upon which worlds were matched with one another? The thoughts of Mary's mind spun together, and she sat carefully on the tiled floor. It was cool and warm both at once. Perhaps the temperature was carefully controlled so that the worlds or frames of time would not overheat. What if she had dropped the world? 102


What if she had put it in her pocket? Would that interrupt the passage from where she was now, to the other world, and back again? What if she had dropped the world and stepped on it and crushed it? What then? Would an entire world crumble? Or was it merely the link that would be destroyed? Mary didn't know what to think about anything, none of it. No one could possibly answer her questions except for Miss Honey, and she immediately wanted to go find her and ask her everything. Mary stood up to leave. She looked around again. The peace of the quiet, the little lights feathering their way across the divide... Maybe she would look just once more, open another drawer, lift out one of those tiny worlds... Just to see if it was different from the other one, to see if there was anyone there... what would happen this time... Mary pushed away any thoughts of hesitation. Miss Honey had told her to go in and to find out what it was that she was supposed to do. And so she was going to do it. She opened one of the tiny drawers, 103


several dozen drawers further down from the first that she had opened. And she lifted one piece, one little world out of its box, and as it settled into the palm of her hand, she was gone once again... “Hello,” a voice whispered to her. “What are you doing? You'd better get out before they see you.” Mary pushed two fingers into the corners of her eyes to clear the haze. It wasn't working very well, but the face in front of her, a face like hers, but painted a dark blue-violet with little yellow dots in two lines down her cheeks... was becoming more clear. “Where am I?” Mary asked. “Where are you? How could you not know that?” the girl looked surprised. She was a shorter girl, with dark brown hair pulled into a ponytail and wearing a fitted gown the color of barley, all the way to the floor. A leather belt was pulled around her thin waist. And she wore dark leather boots of the same color. “You are at the Palace of the Duchess Jexabella of the Blue Moon. How did you get In here without knowing that? I cannot believe they let 104


you in past the gate.” But then the girl looked down to Mary's hand, holding the little world. Her silver eyes widened. “How did you...! Who are you? No one carries worlds anymore. Are you nobility? Wait. Never mind. Come with me. We cannot talk here.” The girl looked over her shoulder. Mary didn't ask any further questions and followed the girl. For the first time in those brief moments, she realized that she was in a long dark stone corridor, lit with a few torches hung from the walls. But the torches weren't entirely necessary, for on the other wall, the passage was opened to a large courtyard of a castle, perhaps, with blue mountains and gray skies beyond it. The girl was moving very fast down the passage, and Mary was directly behind her. “I am taking you to the accountant office,” she said over her shoulder. “We will talk there.” The passage eventually came to an end. But instead of across the courtyard, the girl took a sharp turn to the left, up a stone staircase. Up and 105


up and continuously up, until they arrived just at the end of another hall. The girl flew down this passage as well, toward the last room at the end of it. And with a small key from her belt, she opened the door and pulled Mary in behind her. “Good,” she said. “I do not think that anyone saw you. Now tell me -- where have you come from?” Mary took a moment to process the question, so overwhelming was this new place. The castle seemed akin to one out of the Middle Ages. And the room in which she was standing seemed practically enormous and filled from one end to the other with stacks of paper. But not old manuscript paper. Fresh paper, crisp and white that looked as though it would have a pleasant crinkle to it. And somehow the room seemed to smell of roast chicken. “I come from another world,” said Mary finally. “A different place.” “I know that,” said the girl, looking once again at Mary's palm. “You have the bead of it in your hand.” Mary opened her palm to look at it. “Have you a string for it?” the girl asked. 106


“A string?” The girl hurried to a desk upon which were piled many stacks of paper. She opened a drawer a took out a spool of silver wire. “Here,” she said. “Place the world on the wire. It will slide on like a bead. You will see.” Mary carefully did so. Then the girl took the world strung on the wire and attached it around Mary's neck as though it were a necklace. The wire had a strange feel on Mary's skin, as though it was more supple than a regular metal. It flowed like a silk cord instead of the warm metal. “Keep that there and don't let it fall into your palm,” the girl instructed. “It is obvious you do not know what you are doing. Do you remember what happened before the bead was in your hand?” “Yes. I was in a great tower of drawers...” The girls eyes widened. “You came from Redbells?” “Oh, is that its name?” “Do you not live there?” “Oh no. I come from... Earth. That's 107


the name of the planet anyway.” “Earth. The worldless world?” “What does that mean?” “I see you know nothing,” said the girl. “A worldless world has no links to other worlds. We thought they were myth. Earth was one of them...” Mary was wondering to herself how they could be 'wordless' if she had, indeed, come from Earth to another world after all, but she didn't have time to ponder these thoughts for very long. “Sit, please,” said the girl. “You look rather pale. I do not mean to be rude...” she went to the window and looked over the valley below. “But it is dangerous for you to be here. The Duchess of the Blue Moon is rising out today. And I think that you must be safe only if you stay here.” “Shouldn't I just go back?” Mary began to say. “I only have to put the... world into my other hand.” The girl looked at her carefully. “No... I do not think you are meant to go back yet...” She paused, and then went on in her light voice. (Mary thought it sounded a bit of a cross between high society English and perhaps Eastern European, but mixed 108


with something entirely different.) “My name is Hortense.” “Mary.” “I can tell that you are amused at my appearance...” “I'm sorry, really...” “Do not be. I am sure that from where you come, there are few people with faces like mine. I was not born this way. The Duchess of the Blue Moon employs only those of the violet way, meaning our skin has been dyed. Permanently. Or so we are told when brought into her employment. Wicked queen that she is...” “Then why did you come to work for her?” Mary asked, settling back into her chair. She somehow didn't mind staying longer. At any moment she could return. “Slavery,” Hortense replied, almost crisply. “In a manner of speaking. But I will not go into the details at the moment. For now, well, I suppose you are the one to manage this job.” She pointed to the stacks of papers. “We have been needing someone with the mark of worlds on them. And you have it now.” 109


Hortense stared at her in a strange way. “What do you mean by that?” Mary asked, suddenly a little alarmed. “It is a subtle mark,” Hortense replied. “Yet unmistakable for those who are looking for it. It is very light. Look here.” She drew Mary to the reflection of the open glass window. She was right. A whisper of white tattooed in a small line above her right eyebrow. “Strange...” said Mary. “How did it get there?” “You travel at a great rate through many places, constellations, dimensions, universes to come from one world to another. The energy must pass through somewhere so that you do not completely explode to pieces. That is where it leaves its mark.” Mary set a finger to the mark, but it felt like nothing other than the usual smoothness of her skin. “What am I supposed to do here?” she asked, turning back to the stacks of paper. “Anyone who has the white mark is able to catalog worlds. They are given 110


the special ability to write them up, to add and subtract them, to make them more... harmonious. Erase what the Duchess of the Blue Moon has neardestroyed. It will be your job to save them.” “Save what?” “The worlds.” “The worlds!” “I cannot stay with you now,” Hortense said suddenly. Mary looked at her quickly. Hortense was looking out the window at a strange sort of shadow on the valley. “She will be leaving soon. And I will be missed. Stay here. Look around and acquaint yourself with the documents. I will bring dinner tonight.” And then she had gone.

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Chapter 7

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When Hortense left the room, Mary didn't know what to do. This was a sort of strange request. “What am I supposed to do with all of this?� she thought to herself. The piles of papers were unending. And each sheet was filled with writing, most of which seemed to be typed, which hardly matched the castle and general surroundings. Was there a manual? A guidebook? What was she supposed to do? What 115


did the papers even mean? Mary sat down in a chair, the only apparent chair in the room of dark wood and stone. She lifted the sheet of paper off the top stack near her. It was then that she noticed that some of the stacks of paper were made up of more than print and script. Many were scrawled with notes in the margins, things were circled, there were arrows and sketches. And all of them were stamped with various stamps and seals. And as Mary began to look more closely at the sheet of paper, the before unreadable text -- a language in which she was completely unfamiliar -- was suddenly understandable. What other new things could these transports to other worlds do? And it was then that she saw the book, the book filled with all of her instructions. The book that never seemed to end, no matter how many pages that she turned. And it happened that over the next hours of sunlight, before she even noticed the need to light any lamps, she had completed a small stack of papers. Or 'worlds' as she found them to be. According to the extensive manual 116


in front of her, each sheet of paper was a world awaiting approval to be admitted into the catalog of worlds. And the more she read, the more she became interested in the work. By the end of several hours, she had become a near expert on the process of cataloging pre-worlds. So when Hortense returned at an hour resembling seven o'clock on a summer evening back home, Mary hardly heard her approach. “I brought dinner for you,” said Hortense. And then her eyes widened. “How did you do this?” she asked, pointing to the stack of completed papers. “I read the manual,” Mary replied, wondering absently to herself why she was not asking Hortense many questions about what was going on. “I know it's slow work, but it's very interesting...” “You completed all of these papers in four hours?” "I know I'm slow, but I've never done this before..." "I don't think you understand," said Hortense, shaking her head. "For such 117


a stack of papers to have been completed before... This would have taken, perhaps, several years of time. If not more. And done so by an entire set of doctors on the subject. You, Miss Mary, are profoundly skilled." Mary had not expected such a reaction. "But you're not certain I've done it right," she replied, handing a sheet of paper to Hortense. Hortense immediately nodded. "I can tell that you have. Yes..." she said, looking through the rest, "Yes, all of these are correct. Genius, I must say. And such creativity. No one else has written up worlds with such ease and interesting components. I would have not expected it of you, Mary." Mary was beginning to think that it was strange how Hortense spoke to her in a familiar sort of way, as if they had known each other for awhile. Maybe that was how they spoke to one another in this place. What was this place anyway? "What's the name of your world?" she asked. "Monsoon." "Oh. I know that word. What does it 118


mean in your world?" "No one knows for certain. Here. I have brought you dinner." Mary looked at the tray. She was surprised at its contents. A small loaf of bread, as yellow as dandelions and incredibly soft and moist when sliced. And a bowl of fruits that looked like bright red rubber balls but melted in the mouth as an explosion of juice. "This is very good," she said between mouthfuls. "It is a better fair than the peasants receive," said Hortense, still looking out the window. "Would you consider completing these papers? No one else can do it as fast, nor as well." "I guess..." Mary replied, eating the last of her bread. "It would help if I knew why I was doing it, I suppose. I can't stay here for long. What if something bad happens and I can't get home? I want to go home soon, even if time won't have passed when I get back..." Hortense turned around from the window. "Let me tell it to you in this way: there is, what you might say, an infinity of universes, filled, each, with an infinity 119


of worlds. We have never found an end of them. And we have been searching for trillions of trillions of years. Our world, Monsoon, is ruled by the Duchess of the Blue Moon. She represents all that is decadent and evil in millions of these universes. Such a large part of them, that she controls them all to her own power and greed, to the demise of all decent people living in them. Our job, here, is to write up the worlds, alter them according to the laws and regulations, and creativity, of the ancient ways. The ways that said universes could be repainted, so to speak, as times change. Within reason, of course. And for the better good. The Duchess of the Blue Moon, however, does not know this art still exists. She would prefer that her own scribes keep their individual worlds and countries and departments as she wants them. The creativity of no one else is accepted, but for her own. And so... the rebellion, here," and Hortense spread a hand before the countless stacks of papers, "continues." Mary wasn't sure what to say at first. An 'infinity of universes'. It was an exciting thought at first. 120


But there was a point of concern. Something that immediately came to mind. "Do you worship God?" she asked, almost without thinking. "Everyone worships their own," Hortense replied, clearing Mary's dinner dishes. "And is there... Do you know about Jesus?" "Jesus..." Hortense paused for a moment. "Ah..." Her eyes seemed to grow more clear for a moment. "I have heard of Jesus. Here, he is called by another name. And he is the God I worship. The only God. He is known in all places. He is your God?� Mary was suddenly relieved as she nodded. So simple after all. No matter how many worlds, how many universes... He was still there. In all of them. Now, there was nothing that could keep her from the immense curiosity and wonder of these unimaginable places. These worlds. These cultures. These things she could hardly understand... For the next several hours, somehow, as the twilight came on 121


through the wide open windows, Mary talked with Hortense about as many questions as each other could think of regarding their opposite worlds, and how things worked. At one point, Hortense returned with what she called, 'cinnamon sodas', and it was several calls of the bell into the night by the time Hortense paused their conversation. “I must go,” she said. “But I have made arrangements for your quarters.” She rose, and then paused again. “The Duchess of the Blue Moon must never know that you are here.” And then she paused again, as she seemed to do often, and said, “Your room will be the eighth door down the hall. Everything is set in order for you.” And then she was gone. Mary looked out the open window to the night. So quiet. And a beautiful sort of whisper from the woods. She closed the window and then the door behind her. Hortense had given her one thing before leaving: a little copper key. And with that, she locked the door and pocketed it before leaving to find her room. 122


Chapter 8

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When Mary opened the door to her room, she was surprised by the elaborate design of the apartment. Hortense had told her that the room would be sparse. But it didn't seem to be that way at all. The walls were solid slabs of very old wood on one side, red (likely cedar), but polished smooth, as shined as river rocks. And on the opposite wall were dark gray stones, rough. There was one large window at the 125


center of the wall looking over the plain on the other side of the castle. And it was drawn with heavy drapes made of a dark gold velvet. As for the rest of the room, there were several large chairs, overstuffed, but comfortable, upholstered in a variety of colors and patterns. Several lanterns hung from the walls, already lit by Hortense. A raised bed set with an upholstered headboard and a variety of books and other unusual pieces set around the room. It was covered in what appeared to be deep, pillowy covers patterned in many thin stripes of dark pinks, greens, whites, and reds. And then there was a small washroom stocked with soap that smelled of a rough sort of sweet grass and a copper reserve filled with hot water, and all other necessities for a wash room. There was even a pantry, painted in a Caribbean pink and worn down over years of use, filled with all sorts of new foods. The one thing that Mary could identify were the muffins. And it seemed, by the square piece of paper set into the inside of the door, that the 126


temperature was perfectly moderated from inside. Just under the window grew a crop of tiny green plants, many of which were loaded with little fruits. And she could also tell that some of them were herbs. Additionally, Mary looked inside the wardrobe near the washroom, which housed several plain, but well-cut and lavishly embroidered gowns. She wondered if Hortense had sent them from her own room. There were also two pairs of leather boots which would lace just to her knees, and a variety of other clothing pieces. The whole matter was so strange, but Mary was tired. She was full of good food, and the room was warmed by the small fire which was housed in the direct center of the stone wall. Before she knew what had happened, she was in a nightgown pulled from the wardrobe, in the middle of the covers, with the last thoughts of the days pulling her away into a world of dreams and other thoughts of things she had never before experienced. The next morning, when Mary opened her eyes, she saw something 127


that she hadn't noticed before. It was a small, boxed, silver machine, hung right next to the door. She must not have ever turned around to look. Curiosity became a stronger temptation than remaining in the eiderdown puff of her warm bed. It was just an ordinary sort of machinery, well-worn, but clean and looked as though it would still operate well. And then she saw the note that Hortense had placed, folded, tucked into the side of the box: Press the yellow button every morning. Even if you do not hear from me. Then click the red digit. The rest will follow on its own. ~ Hortense Mary wasted no time. These new worlds were not for hesitation. She did as instructed. The machine made a sudden, sort of whir, like find sand being ground. And then it spit out a sort of ticket. Mary pulled the card from the dispenser and 128


looked over it. There were a series of unreadable symbols. But the line at the bottom read: Enter with code: 869 Mary had no idea as to what this meant. But she set it aside and washed and dressed for the day. There were no instructions for breakfast. It didn't matter, however, because at that moment there was a small knock upon the door. Hortense. She smiled brightly. She didn't seem as tired as she had been the previous night. And Mary wondered what sort of burdens she carried, living as she did under the auspices of the Duchess of the Blue Moon. “You are awake. Good. Follow me. And lock your door.” Mary did as instructed. “You do not need worry about hiding yourself today,” Hortense explained, as they walked down the passage. “The Duchess is gone today, and with all her trove. I want to show you what you must do every day with your transport.” She nodded at the ticket in Mary's 129


hand. They walked down the same passage as before, but this time, at the end of it, instead of entering the stone courtyard, Hortense led her to the garden. A lavish garden, made up of mostly peach trees, already heavily laden with silk fruits of dark yellows and reds. And in its center was a black box, perhaps eight feet high and three feet wide. Mary stared at it. “Set the transport in the slot,” said Hortense. Mary did so. “Your code.” Mary punched in the three numbers on the keypad, which felt very much like a sort of polished set of soapstones. “Wait,” Hortense said next. And with the same sort of soft grind like sand, the box produced more paper. A great deal of paper. Enough paper to fill, perhaps, near three thousand sheets of text. 130


“What is this?” Mary asked, turning to Hortense. Even Hortense was having trouble not hiding the surprise in her eyes. “Your documentation for the day.” “Do you mean 'year' maybe?” “Day.” “What am I supposed to do with this then?” Hortense turned toward her slowly, as if preparing her answer. “These are your tasks.” She handed the heavy stack of pristine papers to Mary. “How am I supposed to do all of this?” Mary asked, scanning just the first page. “There must be several hours' worth of work on this one page.” “You stop time.” Mary blinked. “How?” “The level of the world transmitter that you have,” Hortense said, pointing to the bead around her neck, “will provide you the hours and the ability.” Mary didn't know what to say. She wondered why she was doing this at all. She didn't have to stay here. She didn't have to do all of this work. “How am I supposed to write all of 131


the worlds and take care of all of these things as well?” “These 'things',” Hortense replied calmly, pointing to the papers, “are to help you write the worlds.” Mary didn't have anything else to ask. She was supposed to be there for some reason, helping this unusual world. And whether or not she fully understood what she was doing, didn't really seem to matter. And so she carried her stack of papers to the tower room, and got to work... For the rest of that day, Mary completed the requirements of the papers. When she was required to stop time, which was done simply by adjusting the clock set into the wall of the tower room, with the world bead around her neck, she found, suddenly, that she was not tired at all. And it seemed as though her work suddenly went very fast, and did not seem long at all. Her tasks were unusual, but seemed limited to paper and tedious writing bits about different worlds. Once, the instructions recommended that she stop for a sort of fruit punch, which was delivered by 132


Hortense. “You are doing well,” she said. “Your work is good enough, I think, that you will be assigned tangle worlds tomorrow.” This time, Mary did not have to ask what Hortense meant. “Tangle worlds,” she continued, “are brief excursions to other lands to retrieve something of necessity, or to deliver a message, fix something that could not be penned out on the paper... You will do well at it.” This was an interesting prospect. Because Mary had hopped, already, into three worlds in the past several days of time, she was eager to try at it again. “I thought that it was difficult to access worlds here,” said Mary. “It is, if you are not the correct person. Some people can never transverse any of them. But you are different. You come from Earth, and are easily able to transfer to almost any world that we know. You will be given the world beads after you have written the formulas.” Everything seemed so cryptic, and yet, when given the papers, Mary 133


suddenly always seemed to know what to do. She fell asleep that night, thinking of all of these unusual things... and missing Iceland... and home.

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Chapter 9

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It seemed as though Mary had blinked, and three months had passed. When she had first been introduced to the concept of Tangle Worlds, she had enjoyed completing her documentation and making these brief travels. Every day was filled with innumerable stacks of papers and seals and creative notes and observations and etc., which was interesting and challenging. But with the infusion of 137


travel, her world popped open, spilling with it colors and sounds and textures and shapes and things unimaginable. Every time she was transported. Every time she unlocked the little drawers of the World Box, a much smaller scale of the cathedral room back from where she had first entered. Each of those times, she became enthralled, and could hardly wait to enter the next. “Keep careful watch over this Box of Worlds,” Hortense had instructed her. “They cannot be used by any other here, of which we know. Except for the Duchess. And she does not know of this box. She accesses worlds through her own crafts and recipes.” Mary had promised to guard the box carefully and keep it locked in her study overlooking the green plain. She grew to love her work there, and, slowly, occasionally, Hortense would bring her companions to visit Mary while she worked. “You cannot be always alone,” Hortense told her. “It will make you too lonely. And you should not leave until this work is done.” Mary enjoyed meeting the friends of Hortense, and slowly, found the stack 138


of worlds diminishing under her transcribing and authoring. And every day, Hortense would take the documentation to the orchard garden, and slip it into the great blackbox. “When the documentation is completed, you should return,” she had told Mary. “For that is all that we may ask of you. You have done us amazing things here.” Mary bowed. It was the custom. She had learned that. Hortense paused, as though she had something more to say. “I would like to invite you to the fair that is held tomorrow in the village. There will be guards there, to watch out for you. You will not be harmed by the Duchess.” And then she was gone again. Mary sat thinking for a few moments. This was unusual for Hortense. It would be the first time that she had been invited to anything at all since her arrival. And with departure so near... she would like to attend a fair. To see a part of this world that she had not yet seen, after spending so many months there. But there was one more world to inspect that afternoon before retiring for 139


the day. And it was a good one. As soon as Mary had closed her hand over the tiny world bead, she was whisked into a place high in the mountains. Soft, green, cool... there was a heavy mist. And as she looked down below her into a bowled valley, she could see that it was a Giant Panda garden. She turned around, and there was a small structure, open to the late afternoon gray of the mountains. Inside was a printing press, with several peasants at work together, binding up books. Mary had the symbol of invisibility on her forehead -- the silken red circle with the two white bars down the center. They could not see her. She could see the text on the crudely bound books, rough-edge paper and sewn together in bunches with white wax thread. It was a strange dialect, but her travels had made her more familiar with the languages. The title was too vague. But the author was clearly labeled, 'Joseph'. Such an old name for such a faraway 140


place... She walked down the green path a short ways. The place she had to adjust was just there, at the thundering stream outside the Japanese-style house with the gridded paper doors. And underneath the pilings of the house, there were cherries, grown hot from the steam bath of the stream, which she knew was to run to the bath house further down the mountain. The stream also ran the print house behind her. And the little train depot about a mile away, where she could see the hot coffee cart trundling down toward the few passengers waiting for the next engine to arrive. The Macchu Picchu Effect, Hortense had called it. The steam water, the print house, the bath house, and the train depot. Mary wasn't sure what she meant by it. But the one thing she had to see after was the cherries. There was something about their composition that was making the world unstable. Carefully, she ducked under the pilings of the house. No one lived there; she knew that. Although in maintaining the world, she had made sure to keep the house clean and smelling of pines 141


and lit with soft glowing lamps. Because she liked that house, and some time, she would like to return to it and stay there for awhile. As a sort of holiday... There were the cherries, in the bush. Just as she suspected. They were too blue. They needed some blue, but not that much. She pulled a small leather wallet from her rucksack. Inside, were the most delicate of tools and brushes. She had already prepared the paint. And ever so carefully, she dipped the tiny silken brush into the dark red, and then painted the little cherries, singing in the mountain wind. It did not take very long. Soon, the world had a new hum to it, and she knew by its sound, that everything was as it should be. Then, with a breath of the bead around her neck, she was back once again. This was how things went. The next morning, Mary was ready to attend the fair. Despite the brilliance of her work, and the fact that she had only a mere handful to complete, she wanted to visit the fair and see ordinary, or presumably ordinary, people again. That night, she took special care of 142


things and spent more time in preparation than usual. There was a fresh bar of smooth, finely powdered oatmeal soap for the wash. And afterwards, while she looked over the metered reports from the lighthouse, she had two glasses of cold fruit juices. She went to bed at a decent hour, and did not adjust the clocks for extra time. So when the next morning arrived, she was ready to leave. There would be no work for her that day. She got into her long sweater dress, cable knit from the top, which Hortense had brought to her. It was dark green, and made of heavy weave, for it was a cold fair. And her rucksack was ready to slip over the shoulder. She took a brush to her hair. It was grown long now, and fast. Hortense had told her that those who crossed worlds, often passed through strange vitiman walls, which did such things. Hortense had given her careful instruction not to be seen until she reached the fair's gates, which were just at the start of the highlands. So Mary repainted the invisibility symbol 143


on her forehead as she stepped out into the cool air of the mid-morning. It was a good thing not to be at such hard work, even though she enjoyed it much. So it was out into that cold world that Mary Pond took her rucksack and her newly-found knowledge of the universes, and went to join the masses... It was startling at first. So many people. It had been too long since Mary had seen so many of them together. And suddenly, she was more homesick than ever. For Iceland, for home, for her family... even DanJoseph, her wonderful tour guide, and the old gentlemen at the inn... But this was surely an interesting place. A veritable bazaar. The colors and music and the laughter and shouting... it resembled more of a Renaissance fair than anything Mary had ever seen. There were cold potato soups being served. And crackling meats laced on sticks. Dancers on the green... Once well within the masses of crowd, she removed the red circle. 144


There would be no need to be so invisible in such a place. As far as Mary understood, she looked almost the same as the other girls there in the crowd. No one would ever be able to tell. And that's when she saw them. Or, rather, it looked as if they were watching her. Almost immediately, Hortense was at her side, escorting her swiftly through the crowd. “Get out your red circle,” she said quietly. “As soon as we reach the stone wall, put it on, and keep walking. Into the hills. You can never be seen here again.” Mary turned to her in a small state of alarm. “But how do I get back? You will know when it happens,” said Hortense. “But my work... I'm not finished.” “Don't worry, Mary Pond. We will meet again.” And with that, they had reached the stone wall. Mary slipped the red circle to her forehead. And Hortense, with a quick smile, turned back and disappeared into the crowd. For several moments, Mary just 145


stood there. And she found it surprising that one of the foremost thoughts in her mind was that she had missed the fair. And then there was the question of food, water, shelter, what to do, how to get home, why Hortense hadn't just let her back home immediately if she was actually in danger... She had no other thought than this: to get home. To get home to everything that she loved. These worlds were, however, marvelous. As she began her trek up into the mountains, she began to think on them all, the summary of her visitations across the universe. It was spectacular, magnificent. She pressed the tiny world against her skin. So small and warm, and yet so filled with the wild colors and raw earth of a place unspeakable. And it was only one of the so very many... If only she held it in the palm of her hand for just one moment... No, but Hortense had told her just what to do... And that was to wait until she knew it was time, which must be some time after arriving in the mountains. The winds were cool, even in the early morning. And by the time Mary 146


thought to turn from her daydreams and back toward the castle grounds, she found that she had climbed quite far. There it was -- the fair grounds -- a good distance below her now. What was it about this terrible Duchess? What could she do to her that would be so dreadful, if she was found out? Mary paused at the first brink to look back once again. Such a mysterious place, that, the castle of which she had seen only two rooms. The grounds. She had met no one there but Hortense... All such a strange thing. Mary went on and on, into the thick of the mountains. She surprised herself at her pace. The new air of a new world... perhaps that was it, what drew her on. And on into the mist.

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It was just at two o'clock in the afternoon that Mary came across the boxes. Lying just there in the sanded byway. So beautiful and small and precious. And by the time dusk had fallen, and she had reached the high mountains, the castle was a mere patch of gray in the valley beneath. What was she supposed to do now? The colored wisps she had seen at the old ruins was also a mystery, and she half-wondered if they were the Duchess 151


Jexabella's spies in the winds. Were they her lost boxed worlds that she had taken? Maybe only a trap? Mary continued forward. These paths were unused in centuries. This was obvious. As she wandered further, there was the occasional coin left along the way which she added to her pack. They were likely useless. But she could never know for certain until she might come across people again. On she went, as evening approached. She could now no longer see the village around the castle, not even with her extension glasses. It was just about where she thought that she might need to set up a sort of camp, when, she saw it... the little house on the brink. So small and quiet. But inviting. And there seemed to be a sort of natural glow from within. Could anyone live up there so far away from civilization? Mary hurried toward it, giving little thought to what sort of person might be up there, if there was any person up there at all... When she arrived, breathless, before it, she stopped and looked on it in a little sort of wonder. 152


This was something beautiful and unexpected. As she approached, she thought that the house was a sort of interesting cross between a French chalet and the Chinese house that she had seen in the mountains earlier... With no further hesitation, she opened the door, with a simple press of her hand against the worn handle of the wood door. She drew in her breath a little when she first looked inside. It was all so beautiful... Everywhere she looked, she could see little worlds. Little moving, live worlds, packaged, and set on many shelves lining the walls. These worlds were fantastic. Mary looked carefully at them, all so different and bright and full of color and beauty. The most tiny of creatures and things moving in them. Animals no larger than the head of a pin. Plants. Weather. And people. The tiniest of people. These were fantastic. And some worlds had been left unfinished. She could tell that this had been someone's workshop. A long, a very long time ago. The worker was gone, but the worlds 153


were still there. Living, pulsing with beauty and amazing things... Mary looked on them in awe. This was a place to leave undisturbed. Mary might be able to help fix things in some worlds. But to create them... that was work for someone else. Angels. And the angel who had been here was no longer here. She looked about to see what stood in the house, aside from the many worlds. The worlds that would have, likely in old days, been sold to royalty, those of prestige. And she saw a staircase to the second story. But it was likely a house of mystery. According to Hortense, houses of mystery, from the outside, could be seen as very simple, and small. But in many cases, they would continue on and on and on... for sometimes thousands and thousands of miles of rooms. This was, most likely, one of those houses. But Mary needed only one room. A room to sleep. And a place to make herself a bit of dinner. There it was, just as she needed it. Perhaps it was not merely the house of mystery, but also the house of wishes... 154


and these were, indeed, quite rare. Mary found herself easily falling asleep that night in the cushions of a plumped down bed, with a warm meal of poached egg and scrappy toast with jam and crème, wondering what would happen to finally bring about the end of this fantastical journey.

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When Mary woke the next morning, the gray was still about. But she was nourished enough to continue with a plan that had come to her in the night. Hortense must have known that she would come to this place. This was obvious, by the path that she had set her on. And these worlds... some of them were unfinished. Perhaps... She would spend her day looking over them. Perhaps she was meant to mend something. Certainly not create, but mend. 159


She was so interested in this idea, that she forgot about breakfast, except for a glass of juice that tasted sweet and cold and of something regarding mango and perhaps a little of banana. There they were -- the unfinished worlds -- lying about on the table. Which one to inspect first... She looked over them all carefully. One at a time, noticing the detail, what might possibly be the trouble with them... And then, she saw it. She saw the world. That first world she had entered upon her first encounter, walking along the trench in Iceland. With astonishment, she pulled it to the looking glass. Yes, there it was -- Miss Honey's world -- all in perfect detail. But there were no people or animals. Something was wrong with it. From all of the documentation that she had read, Mary knew that something had to be repaired. That something was missing. And she began to examine every speck of its smallness in her hand. She retraced in her memory, every part that she had seen on her walk down the mountain. Everything that was not alive and walking about. What could be missing? She spent several hours in this manner, 160


looking it over in thorough exhaustion of detail. By the time she thought to look out the window again, over the distant green valley, she realized that it was about the noon hour. She went into the little galley and prepared for herself a forest salad of windflowers and fresh salted greens, winter ice peas, and crunchy sour blossoms. And it was then, as she brought the dish back to the work table and looked once again at the tiny world... that she knew what had happened. And for several moments, she didn't move, as it occurred to her the significance of everything that had just happened. She had read enough of worlds to know what had to be done if she was to return to the place from whence she came. If she was to return to Iceland and ultimately, to home. For the next four days, Mary hardly moved from her station. She left only for meals and a few hours of sleep each night. And this was all. She was so intent on working on the one tiny piece of the world that was missing, the tiny piece that would bring her back. 161


And then at the end of the fourth day, she had finished it. With tired eyes, and with great hope, she placed the little piece, the so very little piece, at the brink of the world, where she had stepped into what seemed like many many months ago. It was the little magnet, the little complimentary yellow magnet from the hotel she had first stayed at in Reykjavik. And as she placed it just in its correct spot, the world began to quake the slightest bit in her hand. Colors changed. Things moved again. And the smallest of cool breezes rushed toward her face. Yes, this was as it should be. She knew, now, what this world was. It was a living link, a living link back home. And it was the only thing that could bring her back. Hortense knew this. She knew that the bead around her neck, the link back, had been broken. How it had broken, Mary did not know. But Hortense knew that Mary had to get back and that she was the only one who could fix the link. And as she watched, one more time, over the window to the valley, she slipped the world bead from its warm 162


metal strand around her neck, and placed it in the palm of her hand....

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Two months later, Mary was sitting in her hotel restaurant. She was leaving for home that night. And before she left, Dan-Joseph had invited her for a cup of tea. Again. This was a common occurrence in the last weeks, ever since Mary had shared with him her experience in the land of Monsoon and other places in time and space. “I still find it amazing that you found it,” he was saying. “That beautiful passage. I have never told you, but that is one of the reasons I lead the tours. I 167


have always wondered if anyone would find it, as I did.” Mary sipped her hot tea. “I still can't believe it,” she said. “I'm glad I'm not the only one.” “Of course it was so long ago...” he said. “I have never been able to return. But, I think... that maybe it will be time again soon.” “What are you planning?” Mary asked. Dan-Joseph slipped the plate of sweet rolls toward her. “This coming summer,” he said. “I will be leading the same tour again. Do you plan on returning for your research.” Mary smiled and nodded. “Adventures with Dan-Joseph in far away worlds,” she said. “We should meet again here and explore.” “Agreed,” said Dan-Joseph. And Mary boarded her flight that evening thinking on the many wonderful things to come.

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