by Michal Wojcik
Through the windows I can only see a faint miasma and perhaps snow or rain. From where, I don’t know. I appreciate the light but wish I could see beyond the glass, because if I leave the house I don’t know where my feet will take me. Sometimes it’s cobblestones, or fresh green grass, or the dry dust of some ancient city where a ziggurat is the only sight of interest among same-old clay walls.
Memorabilia from several worlds lies strewn about my living room; I try to keep a semblance of sensibility and sameness but things break down and need replacing. Other things simply accumulate into an uneasy mess of clockwork and rough spun.
Clothes are a problem, as are food and money and language. I can’t predict when home will have a flight of fancy and, after I so painstakingly learn the appropriate words and customs, take me to another unfamiliar place. There are times I’d rather stay in this small house of mine, on the rocking chair in front of the fireplace, and close off the many outsides. But I must eat, and endure the stares and pointing fingers if I find the world has changed once more.
“Hullo. Where am I?” I try each time. Sometimes the citizens vaguely understand my words after scrunching their brows; other times I speak gibberish, and I’m left searching the dregs for what scraps I can find. More than once I’ve been dragged before a local magistrate, accused of spying for some foreign king. “No spy, sir. Just lost.” Other times I join the rat-catchers and no one takes notice. On the lucky occasion, my home only sidesteps instead of leaping. Then the clothes are off-colour and the speech slightly altered; adaptation is easier. Eventually I will find provender and work, and learn the local tongue. If home decides to stay a while, I might even find some friends. A lover. Home doesn’t care. It slips its tether, it seems, when I’m most comfortable, and the next time I open the door the world is strange.
I thought to leave it behind, once. Sahire had rough hands scoured by the chemicals involved in bookbinding, but her fingers moved with such skill, and the way she looked over her glasses, at me, as I entered her shop… We’d kiss on the rooftop garden when night fell until her hair went a special shade of red under the light of three moons, and she’d laugh at my ignorance over the mapping of the stars. We’d read books to each other as enormous fireflies perched on the parapet to make quivering song.
This world of gold-winged chariots and sulking manticores, of sweet scents from violet flowers, of terraced fields and gold-rimmed canals, made me feel a sense of wonder and longing. I longed for this world and I longed for Sahire. During that time, I lived in a small room above the bindery and if I passed the door from which I first came, I averted my eyes. I’m not sure what the neighbours thought. For them it’s a door to a place already there; only for me, it leads home.
I had resolved to remain. But wandering through the streets one day with a basket of tinctures from the market, I spotted a man I’d seen, once, in a city carved out from a cliff face that overlooked the sea. It was always dim there, the buildings caught under a canopy of churning clouds, and I never saw a moon.
He was tall, beard still braided in Kaloré fashion of that other world, though his dress was of this one. After a moment’s hesitation, I pursued him. He was so tall I needed to stretch to tap his shoulder, and he turned sharply.
“Sir,” I said in the language of Kaloré, “I know you.” Said haltingly - I never retained much from place to place.
His stare softened. “You as well?”
I wanted to embrace him. Another voyager, lost between worlds. Yet his next words carried a hint of panic, urgency, and he took me aside. “Have you found it? I have searched long, but perhaps you have?”
His eager face fell and he stared again. He shook his head. “No, we are all sent on the world-road to find... We all have a purpose. How else do we return?”
My home’s wandering was always aimless, always to some place unknown.
“The patterns, surely you’ve seen them? Like vast tiles, all shuffled together.” Here, he locked his fingers. “We find the key and come to the centre. Each of us has a different path, but we must search, from world to world, else wise they come apart.” He let his fingers separate. Seeing my incomprehension, he shook his head, in frustration. In pity. “You don’t see? We’re the messengers, chosen of the gods, or ambassadors sent to heal the fragments, or maybe something else. All we’ve visited, like a fresh-fired pot smashed to pieces. We must find out why we are chosen. Perhaps we’re here to bring them back together.” His pace increased with each word until he almost babbled. Spit caught in his beard as he declaimed, until at last he stopped with an expectant look.
I held my basket closer. My breathing quickened. I couldn’t find anything to say.
The Kaloréhite raised up his arms with a thundering sigh before turning and striding briskly into the crowd. I tried to pursue him, but he wavered and was soon lost to me.
Perhaps I did not understand his words, but they stayed with me that night on Sahire’s rooftop. She could sense my unease, quietly stroked at my hair and asked what troubled me. I answered truthfully, that I did not know.
The next day and the next I tried to find the Kaloréhite. It became an obsession of mine, to the exclusion of all else, to find some answers to the questions crowding my mind. But I did not find him, and as days became months I knew in my heart he had already moved from this world to another.
When I finally told Sahire about my true origins she had stared, and I saw, in those eyes that held so much adoration once, a sudden distance. She told me in her quiet voice to leave the bindery and she trembled as she spoke. I obeyed. And I knew, then, I could not stay. That it would always end like this. That I could not escape this drift across a thousand worlds. So I took my things from the apartment above the bindery and went back to the now unfamiliar door home.
When I opened it again, from the inside, snow the colour of autumn leaves crunched beneath my boots and I was in a city of steel.
I drift, now. Home untethered. I think, perhaps, I am a brave explorer like Columbus or ibn Battuta, sailing the stars, tasked to write down all I see. My journals span a hundred types of paper, ink applied by reed and feather and fountain pen. Yet this, here, is the only scrap I’ll show should I ever return to the land of three moons. Perhaps I shall find Sahire, and this time I won’t walk away.
Michal Wojcik was born in Poland, raised in the Yukon Territory, and educated in Edmonton and Montreal. He has an MA in history from McGill University, where he studied witchcraft trials and medieval necromancers. His short fiction has also appeared in On Spec, The Book Smugglers and Daily Science Fiction. Follow him on his blog, one last sketch.
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