Saturday, January 8, 2005

Fiction Entry: Meet Joshua Wander, Part Ten

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

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

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

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


Part Ten: Phone Home

“Rachel,” I said, as I made my way upward and to the left, “what you said before about the effects of the experiment… were you implying that I’m crazy?”

A little bit, yes.  Unstable and erratic would be more accurate terms.

I didn’t know whether to be offended or amused.  “So I’m unstable – but you’re real?”

If you believe René Descartes, I am.  I think.  Of course, I’m not sure exactly what I am.

“A ghost?” I guessed.  “A spirit?  A soul?”

More likely a collection of engrams, imprinted on your brain during the bioelectric shock you gave yourself while trying to save me.

I remembered the way the electricity from my CPR attempt had arced upward into my body. Was that what had done it?  “You’ve got to be more than a side effect of electric shock,” I said. “It’s obvious there’s magic involved, even if I’m not sure where science leaves off and magic begins.”

I agree, and it’s a question I look forward to exploring. If it were just a matter of mundane science, emergency room doctors would be haunted by any number of dead patients.  But just adding the “magic” label doesn’t really explain what I am or why I’m here.

“You don’t seem too upset about being dead,” I said.

I think I was more confused than upset at first, Rachel told me. Unless it has yet to hit me, my grieving process mostly took place while you were asleep in that hayloft.

“You were with me then, and aware?”

Much of the time, yes.

“And you weren’t angry or depressed about what happened?”

Not as much as one might expect.  There are certainly things I will miss about being alive, but mostly I see this as a great opportunity, to learn much more about the nature of reality than I ever could as a University professor.

“But—”

I think this is your floor, Chris.

She was right. I walked through another wall and found myself in Dan’s room, two doors down from mine.  He wasn’t there, so I walked through that room and the next to reach my destination.  Jerry was going through my drawers, Harry through my closet.  Neither saw me come in.

Don’t mention me, said Rachel in my head.  I assumed that she meant the existence of her ghostly post mortem self.  That was fine with me, at least for the moment.

“How’s it going?” I asked my two living friends.

Jerry turned so quickly that he tripped over a pile of (presumably) rejected clothing.  “Where’d you come from?” he asked.

“Just now?  The other size of that wall,” I said, pointing.  “Find anything decent for me to wear?”

“Most of this won’t pass for normal or even wizardly clothing in Angland,” Harry said, “but I suppose you know that.”

“What, is there a dress code?” I said.

“Not exactly.  Don’t you want to look the part?”

“Not especially,” I told him. “What about my Beatles records?”

“What’s the point?” Harry said.  “There are no record players in Angland.”

“Yes, but I won’t be there that long, if your prophecy is correct.”

“He does prophecies?” Jerry asked.  I wondered how much Onclemac had told him in my absence.  “Hey, can you tell my fortune?”

“That’s not really the same thing,” Harry said.  He sounded a little annoyed.  “Besides, I’m not sure that particular spell works in a mundane world like this one.  Josh, what are we doing here?  What are your plans, exactly?”

“I’m not making plans, exactly.  I want some clothes, if only as a souvenir of home.  I want my parents to know I’m alive, and not a murderer.  I want a way to listen to the Beatles, in whatever world I end up in.  And I should talk to John Grayson before I go.”

“The clothes are no problem,” Harry said, “even if I don’t approve.”  He pointed to a stack of clothing, already neatly folded on the bare mattress.  I noticed that my wizard costume was in the pile.  “The records you don’t really need, not if you can generate Hendrix music in my wood stove.  I’m not so sure about the other two items.”

“We can call your parents from the pay phone in the hall,” Jerry suggested.

“I can’t hold the phone,” I pointed out.

“I can,” said Jerry.

“What if they can’t hear me?”

“I think they will,” Harry said.  He shrugged.  “Let’s try it.  The worst that happens is Jerry gives them a message from you, which they may or may not believe.”

Fair enough.  I told Jerry where to find my address book with the phone numbers: the left hand drawer of the study carrel. I was half-surprised that the police hadn’t taken it as possible evidence, although it would have told them nothing.  Also in the drawer was a bowl full of loose change, mostly quarters for laundry.  We wouldn’t have to call my parents collect, and I wouldn’t have to owe Jerry money for the calls—forever.

Jerry grabbed the address book and all the change—I figured I had no more use for it myself—and we headed down the hall to the pay phones.  I had Jerry dial my dad’s number first.  “Hello, Dr. Stein?  Hi, this is Jerry Cronin, a friend of Chris’s.  Yes, I have.  Yes, he’s right here.  Yes, he’s okay, sort of, but, well, it’s complicated.  I’ll try to put him on, but there’s a chance you won’t be able to hear him.  No, he hasn’t lost his voice.  He’s lost his whole…how much do you know about physics?  Yessir, here he is.”

When Jerry held out the phone for me, I rushed to stand next to it. In my hurry, I accidentally passed my head through Jerry’s on the way.  This startled Jerry so much that he nearly dropped the phone, but there were no other odd effects.  I placed myself an inch from the receiver and said, “Dad?  Can you hear me?” I could almost see my words traveling down the phone line, headed for Maryland. 

“I hear you just fine,” my dad said testily. “What’s happening over there?  What kind of trouble have you gotten yourself into?”

“How much do you know?” I asked.

“Only what the police and the University and the reporters told me.  Tell me the truth.  What happened?”

“Dr. Rachel Grayson had an epileptic seizure, followed by the stroke that killed her.  I was the only witness—the only one that counts, anyway.  I tried to save her, but I couldn’t.”

“God, Chris.  I’m sorry you have to go through this.  You need to call a friend of mine up there, a defense lawyer.  His name is Bob—”

“I don’t need a lawyer, Dad, but thanks. The autopsy will show I didn’t kill Dr. Rachel, and there’s nothing a lawyer can do about what’s wrong with me now—well, except maybe set up a trust fund or something.”

“What exactly is wrong with you?”  My dad sounded worried, even alarmed.

“I’ve kind of gone all incorporeal with respect to this universe. I only have a solid presence in other worlds.”

“Chris, if this is a joke….”

“You know what, Dad?” I said, suddenly losing patience.  “I knew before Jerry dialed the phone that you wouldn’t believe me.  I can’t prove it to you, but—wait a minute.  Maybe I can.”  I turned to Jerry.  “Don’t hang up,” I said, emphasizing every word.

Then I deliberately put my hand through the telephone’s handset. It wasn’t exactly a visual impression, or even a tactile sensation, but I became even more aware of the telephone signal, making its almost instantaneous connection between Syracuse and Potomac through at least a thousand miles of cable: trunk lines and feeder lines and switchboards.

Hang on, Rachel, I thought, not knowing whether she could hear me.  We’re going for a ride.  Then, dropping the last vestige of illusion that I still existed corporeally in the world of my birth, I sent the bundle of sentient energy that was Joshua Wander leaping along the telephone wires.


The Real Joshua Wander
Joshua Wander: Two Fragments
Joshua Wander Lives (the history of the character)

Joshua Wander on BlogSpot:
Part One   Part Two   Part Three   Part Four   Part Five   Part Six   Part Seven   Part Eight  Part Nine

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

2 comments:

deabvt said...

{{{Hugs}}}
I`m really enjoying this story a lot! The twists & turns are great inventions; so`s the writing!
V

ryanagi said...

Travel by phone line! Pissah!