This wasn’t what I had expected at all. Rather than my parents’ living room, or my bedroom, I stood in a drawing room that, for as crowded as it felt, only possessed one chair. Whatever design papered the walls was so overrun by artwork that it peeked through the narrow cracks left between frames like a voyeur. The art carried no common theme. Bold splashes of color on canvas nestled against memento boxes, sconces, sculptures, sketches and woven tapestries. Pastels and primaries intermingled unashamedly.
“Hello?” called a girl’s voice from a room nearby. “Who’s there?”
I saw that she wasn’t much older than me when she rounded into the room, her hand caressing the intricately carved door molding on her way in. She squinted past me. I turned to see what had caught her attention but was faced with more artwork; and the empty brocade chair. When I turned back her squinting eyes were trained on me. No, they weren’t squinting so much as deep-set and not in use. The girl was blind.
“I’m W,” I announced. “I’m sorry, I don’t know how I got here. I was trying to get home.”
“That sounds like quite the story,” she laughed, holding out her hand. “I’m Mirna, and you’re welcome in my home until you find your own, W.”
“You don’t even know me,” I balked, taking her outstretched hand and giving it a polite shake.
“Not yet,” she agreed, “but only those who have stories to share seem to find their way into this house, and those who come are usually in need of a home for a while. There’s plenty of room. Come on, we’ll make some tea.”
Mirna led me through rooms caked with more artwork. Several of them housed sculptures instead of furniture and Mirna traipsed through them like a loving gardener, her fingers tracing the objects softly as she passed.
“Oh!” she exclaimed with a giggle, stopping suddenly. “Place your hand right there,” she instructed, pointing to an embellishment on a carved table.
I did as she instructed, and my mind was flooded instantly with the image of a pair of kittens rearing up with paws stretched wide and pouncing upon each other simultaneously. The resulting ball of fur and tail and bewildered kitten inspired instant laughter.
“What was that?” I gasped.
“My father built this house for me,” explained Mirna, continuing our trek through two more rooms before we reached an art-filled kitchen. “My sight failed when I was so young, I didn’t have a chance to see much of the world that he longed to show me. It started with bedtime stories.” She filled a kettle and put it on the stove then joined me at the table. “Then he learned how to capture the thoughts that go through an artist’s mind while they’re creating their artwork. And then,” she smiled slyly, “he figured out how to attract artists here who had stories to tell.”
“I’m not an artist,” I frowned.
“You must be,” Mirna insisted. “You wouldn’t be here otherwise.” The kettle sang and she poured the water into the teapot.
“I’m a storyteller,” I offered.
“I suppose that’s its own form of art,” she nodded, “though I’m not sure how I’d be able to see from your words. I suppose it’s worth a try. Tell me, what method of travel was it that made you think that you would go home but landed you instead in my parlor?”
“A book,” I sighed. “I had a book that granted wishes.”
Mirna’s eyebrows shot up in delight. “Where is this book?” she asked. “Do you have it on you?”
“No. It didn’t come along. Neither did my cart. I had a cart full of supplies, in the woods… where am I, by the way?”
“We’re in the city of Bishmasfa. Are you familiar with it?”
I shook my head and then answered belatedly when I realized she wouldn’t see my gesture. “Not really. I’ve seen the name on maps. I think it’s quite a ways south from where I was.”
“Tell me about the wishes you made,” encouraged Mirna while she poured our tea and deftly snagged a plate stacked with baked treats from the counter behind her.
“I only made three,” I sighed. “The first two were for my sister, making sure she was whole and unharmed, and that she made it home. I thought when I wished myself home that I’d go straight there.”
“You wished to go home, from a book that grants wishes, and it brought you here?” asked Mirna. She was fully engaged by the puzzle.
“This house has been a temporary home to many people, but it’s only ever been home home to me,” she said quietly. “I wonder if this is my father’s doing.”
“Who is your father? And how can he do this kind of stuff?”
Mirna hesitated, a smile growing on her lips as her finger ran circles around the rim of her teacup. “The girl who made this teacup was preoccupied with a boy,” she said. “He was very handsome, and she wasn’t certain he knew who she was, but she hoped. And when she shaped this edge she fantasized that he’d come through the shop door and confess his love for her, all in a rush, before her family and customers and everyone. I hope that’s what happened.”
“Mirna, I need to know how your father would be able to trick a book of wishes into thinking that this is my home,” I insisted.
“Father often talks about the things he does being outside of linear time,” she said, blowing over the surface of her tea and taking a sip.
“What does that mean?”
“The only thing I can figure is that this will be your home, your real, permanent home, someday. Wish granting sometimes goes that way. It has no respect for time as we think of it, unless we add time into our wish. Few think to do that. That’s why wish granting is considered so dangerous.”
Her tea was a lovely blend, with chamomile and mint and something stronger that was just on the sweet side of bitter. I sampled a scone, which was still warm from baking. “This is delicious!” I moaned.
Mirna laughed. “Our neighbors run a bakery, and they drop off treats every morning. You’ll love them.”
“Who else lives here?” I asked. “Does your father?”
“Right now it’s just me,” she said, “and now you. Roommates,” she added with a bright smile. “My room is directly at the top of the stairs. Beyond that, you can have any room you like.”
I explored the house and garden after tea. The bedrooms were just as laden with artwork as the rest of the house, though I noticed a theme to the images each surface conjured. In the bedrooms, only peaceful thoughts prevailed. Bedtimes stories of a sort. The garden looked wild, but when I studied it more closely I saw the design. A latticework of paths parted sweet smelling herbs. It was a garden for all the senses but sight, though it wasn’t without its own wild beauty. Small fountains hid like secrets waiting to be discovered. What looked like a greenhouse at the back of the garden turned out to be an artists’ workshop, complete with every kind of art supply imaginable. I wandered through a maze of cobwebbed supplies and partially finished pieces in amazement. So much art. And when touched, so very many stories. I explored with the openness of childhood, crawling behind leaning canvases and opening drawers.
At the back of a small drawer in a bureau that looked like it hadn’t been touched for decades a small silver figurine caught my attention. I’d seen the figure depicted before, though it took me a while to place where. It looked exactly like the statues in the council chamber of Azminan. I’d only seen what remained of them after the city’s destruction, but I had no doubt that this small trinket was an exact replica. What was it doing all the way across the continent? It wasn’t like people had sold souvenirs in Azminan before the war. Not many Azminians even laid eyes on the statues.
I had a funny sensation suddenly, remembering the destroyed chamber. It was like someone else was rifling through my memories. Faster and faster memories slid past. The war, hiding in the forest and catacombs, the waterfall, High Hill… every moment I’d experienced in this strange and frustrating land fled past.
“W?” I heard Mirna call from the garden. She sounded worried.
“In here!” I called. I noticed a broken clay cone at my feet and wondered if it had been there all along or if I had knocked it loose from somewhere. It looked vaguely familiar but I couldn’t place it.
“W?” Mirna called again, from inside the building. She was treading carefully with her arms out and it occurred to me that she didn’t come into this space. I ran to meet her.
“I’m here,” I assured. “What’s wrong?”
“It’s my father,” she said. She looked shaken. “He’s coming back, and he says to keep you here. What’s happened?”
I studied the figurine again. Her father designed a house that could capture peoples’ memories. Who could do such a thing, except… impossible. The architects who built the Council of Azminan had done so generations before and were long gone by now. But the more I thought about all of the impossible things I’d seen, the more I began to believe my suspicion.
“Mirna, your father… what’s his connection to Azminan?” I asked, slipping the figurine into her palm.
She hesitated, running her fingers along its features.
“You’ve guessed then,” she said softly. “It’s true,” she admitted. “He’s called Axbelis, and he and his best students built the Council of Azminan.”
“What does he want with me?” I asked. Never mind ‘how is he still alive?’ I’d get to that question later.
Mirna shook her head and her fingers lifted betrayingly to the broach at her throat. No doubt it was how he communicated with her.
“I don’t know, W. Between your book sending you here and father’s sudden interest in you…” she shook her head again. She passed the figurine back to me. “He says you can keep this. Keep it safe, and hidden,” she warned. “He thinks you might need it someday.” Her expression saddened. “I know you wanted to go home, but I think your adventures here may just be starting.”
Written by W. C. McClure www.wcmcclure.com. This short story may be shared (and please do); just please be sure to share it in its entirety, unaltered (and including this fine print), with credit given to W. C. McClure. Comments are welcome at www.farsideofdreams.com. Oh, and if you want to show your support, tell your friends about this short story blog – and pick up a copy of “The Statues of Azminan” by W. C. McClure. Thanks!