Thanks for the feedback, you three. I feel less like I'm playing to an empty house.
The story so far:
Part One: Cathy and Carl Salazar are on their way to high school in Dewitt, NY when their uncle and guardian, Jamie Barrett, suddenly starts behaving strangely. After referring to the twins by odd names and promising to pick them up later in the carriage, Uncle Jamie looks confused--but denies that there's anything wrong.
Part Two: Cathy and Carl tell their friend Randy about their Uncle Jamie's words. Randy seems to know (or at least suspect) something about it, but delays telling them what it is. When Cathy mentions that Randy rolled the r in the word "trrust," Randy looks frightened and rushes off.
Part Three: Cathy notices that some of her teachers are also behaving strangely. Even she experiences odd thoughts and memories as the day wears on. At lunch, Randy tells Cathy and Carl that the impressions of another life that people are receiving are tied in with dreams he's had about a country called Mâvarin, in which Cathy and Carl are Queen Cathma and King Carli. Randy has begun writing down the dreams in story form. Randy's main worry is that in the dreams, he's a monster. Carl suddenly remembers what kind of monster Rani Fost is in Mâvarin: a tengrem.
Part Four: Carl starts to remember a life in Mâvarin, and Cathy soon realizes that the same is happening to her. Randy, who hasn't confided in anyone else but Mr. Stockwell, the psychology teacher, is deeply worried that he is turning into a tengrem. Cathy and Randy hope to discuss the situation further with Mr. Stockwell, but the teacher is absent. However, he has left a note for Randy that implies that Mr. Stockwell also remembers another life--as Fayubi the Seer, Mâvarin's royal mage. Carl insists that Randy should come along to Shoppingtown Mall with the twins after school.
Part Five: All Roads Lead to the Mall
Uncle Jamie pulled up in the Saturn, driving slowly. “I’m not sure I should be driving you at all today,” he told the twins as they climbed in, Cathy in front, Carl in back with Randy, “let alone to Shoppingtown. I’ve felt very strange all day. Hi, Randy.”
“I think…I think we have to go to the mall anyway,” Randy said slowly. “All of us.”
“You changed your mind?” Carl asked.
Randy nodded. “I still don’t want to go, but I have a feeling it’s important.”
“Shoppingtown is important?” Cathy asked. “Why?”
“I don’t know why, but it is.”
“Then let’s go, and find out why,” Carl said.
They were soon on Genesee Street, heading for Erie Boulevard. It was supposed to be only a five minute drive, but Uncle Jamie was stopping at every intersection, peering in all directions, his brows creased in concentration. “Am I going in the right direction? I feel lost. I don’t know whether I’m going to Shoppingtown or the Greedy Sparrow.”
“I keep looking for the Palace,” Carl admitted.
“And the River,” Randy added.
“Stop it, all of you. We’re not in Mâvarin,” Cathy said. “We don’t even know for sure that it exists. This is the way to Shoppingtown, in Dewitt, NY, in the real world. When we get there, I think you should come in with us, Uncle Jamie, just as Randy said.”
Uncle Jamie put the car in park at the Genesee and Erie red light. He looked around, at Cathy and then at the two boys. “Will one of you please tell me what’s happening?” he said.
“We’re turning into the people in Randy’s dreams,” Carl said.
“Why? How?” Uncle Jamie’s voice was close to panic. “Who could do such a thing, and why would they bother?”
“We don’t know,” Cathy said.
“I don’t understand it,” Randy said. “If my newest memories are current, Mâvarin barely has any enemies these days. Even if someone from Mâton wanted to cause trouble, why would they go after the people we were this morning? We’re nothing to them.”
“What if the people in Mâvarin are turning into us, as we turn into them?” Cathy said. “Queen Cathma and King Carli could be in the Palace right now, thinking about blogging and homework, and starting to forget their own lives.”
“Are we really forgetting anything, though?” Carl asked. “Or are we just remembering their lives, and our lives too? And if the same thing happens to the real Carli, who’s to say that knowledge of trig and American History won’t be useful to him someday?”
“Trig will never be useful,” Randy snorted—almost literally. “Not to him, and not to us.”
Uncle Jamie laughed. “I used to say that about algebra.”
“And do you use it?” Carl asked.
Uncle Jamie shrugged. “Once in a while.” He pulled into the Shoppingtown lot, and parked on the lower level by Kaufmann’s. “Okay, we’re here. Now what?”
“We go in, I guess,” Cathy said.
Before Cathy got her seat belt unbuckled, Uncle Jamie was there, holding the car door open for her. Their eyes met for a moment. Uncle Jamie shuddered a little, probably in belated recognition that he was treating her like royalty again. Cathy tried to smile reassuringly at him, but said nothing.
Together they made their way through the lower level of Kaufmann’s, with Randy leading the way through menswear and the juniors department. The colors of this year’s fashions struck Cathy as odd, even more unnatural than the sought-after dyes that only a few mages (and Rani’s mom) could produce. The mannequins were almost frightening, the fluorescent light too bright. Cathy was relieved to see the large squared opening that led from Kaufmann’s into the mall itself.
Fabian Stockwell stood there, waiting for them.
“I’m glad you’re all here,” the psychology teacher said. He was dressed almost normally for a J-D teacher, but for once he wasn’t wearing a selection from of his collection of silly ties. His wrinkled, kind face had the same worried expression that Fayubi often wore when things were going badly. “The spell—or whatever—that’s affecting us emanates from this mall. Perhaps together we can find out what to do about it.” Mr. S. smiled. “It also gives me a chance to keep an eye on you, now that you’re in trouble yet again.”
“Hey, this isn’t our fault,” Carl said.
“It seldom is,” said Mr. S. “But there are always choices to be made, no matter where—or who—we are.”
“Yes, but who are we?” Cathy asked. “Am I Cathy, or Cathma? Are you Mr. Stockwell the psych teacher, or Fayubi the Seer?”
The man shrugged. “Logically, I have to be Fabian Stockwell. That is the name that goes with this world. But logic seems to have gone on vacation today. There is no rational explanation for all this, short of admitting the existence of magic. And since Fayubi’s life is predicated on magic, I may have to play the role that goes with that name. Meanwhile, though, as long as we’re not in class, you may as well call me Fabian.”
“Yesterday, you told me…you said you didn’t believe in magic,” Randy said.
“That was before I remembered the forty-five years Fayubi has spent practicing it,” Fabian said.
“But that’s in Mâvarin, not here,” Cathy said. “There can’t be any such thing as magic in Central New York in the 21st Century, can there? Not in this version of reality.”
“In theory, no, there can’t,” said Mr. S. “Not under normal circumstances. But modern astronomy and physics strongly suggest the existence of other universes, and even the possibility of travel between them. We may be remembering an alternative universe that’s as real as this one, the magic from which is somehow leaking through into our world.”
“And turning me into a tengrem,” Randy said morosely. Cathy noticed that his voice was rougher and deeper than it had been earlier in the day.
Fabian frowned. “Randy, you’re human. You’re going to stay human.”
“Yeah, well, don’t—don’t count on it,” Randy growled.
“He may be human, but something is certainly affecting him,” Jamie said. “Are you sure the magic you were talking about can’t really change him physically?”
“Pretty sure,” Fabian said.
“And the source of the magic is somewhere in this mall?” Jamie asked.
“Apparently,” Fabian said.
“Does that mean that somewhere in this mall is a portal into Mâvarin?” Cathy asked.
“Not that I’ve found so far,” Fabian said. “But maybe.”
“We need to find that portal, if there is one,” Uncle Jamie said. “It’s probably our only way home.”
“Technically, we are home,” Fabian said. “Fabian Stockwell lives about three miles from this mall. Carl and Cathy are high school students, not royalty. Randy Foster is neither a tengrem nor an apprentice mage, although he does seem to be developing some of the same abilities and disabilities as Rani Fost. You, Jamie Barrett, are not the Royal Stablemaster, nor the former mayor of Liftlabeth. Fayubi and Cathma and the rest are other people, regardless of what we think we remember.”
“Are you sure?” Cathy asked. “These bodies are home, but who are we really? Am I Cathy, with Cathma’s memories, or the spirit of Cathma, in Cathy’s body, or am I just Cathy after all, and suffering from delusions or false memories? I mean, we could all have been hypnotized or drugged or mindpushed—I mean brainwashed.”
“It’s an interesting question, isn’t it?” Fabian said. “I’m guessing that there’s been an actual influx of spirit from the other world, possibly reciprocated as our own spirits leave us. Either way, our synapses have been working hard today, making new connections to encode these memories of another world. Once they are stored in long-term memory, we will all remember Mâvarin until death or Alzheimer’s takes us.”
“Spoken like a true psych teacher,” Cathy said.
“Some of each, actually,” Fabian said cheerfully. “Once all this is resolved, if ever, I hope that Fabian and Fayubi will have learned a lot from each other.”
“How are we going to find out exactly what’s wrong, and how to fix it?” Carl asked. They were well into the lower level of the mall now, across from Pet World, vaguely headed toward J. C. Penney. Around them, shoppers in normal 21st century clothing turned to stare at the two men and three high school students, who were outwardly no different from anyone else.
“Randy’s the key, I think,” Fabian said. “If we can stabilize him mentally, he should be able to reach into the Infinite between worlds, and get everyone’s spirits back where they belong.”
“That’s asking a lot,” Carl said. “Have you noticed the way the other shoppers have been pointing and staring at us? I bet half the people here are part Mâvarinû now, enough to recognize us as Carli and Cathma. And Rani—Rani! I mean Randy! Snap out of it!”
Randy had stopped in front of Pet World, and was staring at the rabbits on the other side of the glass. He whimpered. Carl groaned. “Great,” he said. “It would have to be rabbits.”
Welcome to Mâvarin (info on the books and characters)
Joshua Wander and other past fiction (use sidebar to get to the individual installments)