The Map – William Ritter

I thought, perhaps, that my employer had forgotten. Hoped, I should say. Jackaby’s enthusiasm, when it finds a direction, can be rather unsettling—and I would have given anything to see the day pass entirely unmarked. As I stepped down the spiral staircase to the now-familiar breakfast smells of burnt toast, burnt bacon, and burnt hair, I allowed myself to imagine that I might get my wish after all. Jackaby didn’t seem to notice as I entered the room. He darted about in his usual manner, peeking into jars and sniffing their contents before adding them to a lumpy batter that might have been distantly related to pancakes. I would have felt better about Jackaby’s experimental cooking if his kitchen did not share the same space as his laboratory, which was stocked with an ample supply of acids, explosives, and dried or pickled things that had once been animals whose names I can’t pronounce. I took a seat at the table across from my employer. “Morning, sir.” “Obviously,” he replied without turning around. It wasn’t that Jackaby was rude, exactly. Tactless though he was, there was an earnestness to the man. “I should expect you to have long outgrown being impressed by the fact that the sun rises daily in the east, Miss Rook. Really. You can manage more impressive observations than that.

” Then again, Jackaby might have just been rude. “Sleep well?” I asked, secretly happy for the condescension. At least Jackaby’s attitude signaled a normal morning—or as near to normal as mornings ever came in the company of a supernatural detective. Then he turned, and I saw the bandolier. Strung across his chest was a thick leather strap, with eight slots containing tubes larger than any ammunition I’d ever seen. Each tube was coated in shining paper, the ends poking out on either side in bright, primary colors. I might have preferred that they were bullets. “Please tell me those aren’t”—I swallowed—“party crackers?” “If you insist. These are not party crackers.” He smiled broadly.

“Happy birthday!” I sagged in my chair. “You realize you’re a grown man dressed in children’s novelties?” I avoided his eye and picked at the tray until I found a piece of bacon that was slightly less charred than the rest. “I distinctly remember telling you not to make a fuss.” “No fuss,” he said, “and you’ll find these little poppers are much better than the standard trifle.” He stirred his batter around, poking down with a wooden spoon the bits that rose to the surface. “Ah,” I said. “They’re not standard. Somehow that neither reassures nor surprises me. Is there anything in this house that is?” “Of course. I allow Douglas to maintain the archives in a highly standard way,” he replied.

“Chronologically, I think—or alphabetically, or something equally tedious. I do believe he even keeps some sort of card catalog. Downright banal.” “Yes, but Douglas is also a duck, which rather evens the score, I think.” “Well he wasn’t always,” Jackaby rebutted. “But you’re right, I don’t like to associate with too much normalcy. It’s good to keep one’s mind wide open and one’s horizons expansive. Particularly at times of liminal celebration, eh?” He raised his eyebrows and grinned at me, stirring his mixing bowl until the concoction grew so stiff that the spoon refused to budge. His storm-gray eyes flashed, and his eyebrows waggled in my direction like hopeful puppy-dog tails. “I have no idea what the word liminal means, and as I said, I’d rather not have any sort of celebration at all.

” Jackaby looked at me for a few moments, then shoved the bowl, batter and all, into the washbasin. “It’s high time we take a trip to the market.” I eyed him suspiciously. “Just to the market?” I asked, not trusting the abrupt shift. “You’re suddenly in the mood to fetch groceries?” “Certainly,” he said. “We can browse a few vendors as well, if you’re in the mood.” He had already pulled his ridiculous knit cap over his mess of dark hair and slung a mismatched scarf around his neck. He plucked his coat and satchel from the battered mannequin in the corner, slipping the long, bulky duster over his scrawny frame. At least the coat and scarf more or less covered his partycracker bandolier. “Are you going to wear those across your chest all day?” I asked, pulling on my own long wool coat.

He looked down as if he’d forgotten they were there for an instant. “Not all of them, no.” He plucked a bright-red tube from the top and presented it to me. “Come now, Miss Rook,” he coaxed with another grin. “It isn’t every day you celebrate a successful solar revolution.” “And thank goodness for that,” I said. “Just one and then we’re off to the market? You promise?” “That’s the plan. Now hold tight to your end, and I’ll hold mine.” “I suppose one little party cracker won’t be the end of the world.” I slipped on my own wool hat and took hold of the party favor.

“Three, two . ” We pulled on “one,” and with a weak crackle, the world came to an end. * * * The Zandermacht It was a sensation not unlike running backward from a moving train car and landing on the tracks. The whole of the world we had been a part of whipped away behind us, and an entirely new one leapt up to crash into our feet. My legs buckled on the landing, and I toppled to my back. The painful brightness of direct sunlight in place of a ceiling whitewashed my vision until a shadow inserted itself in my line of sight. Jackaby smiled down at me in what I have come to recognize as the expression he thinks is reassuring. “Calibrating for ground level can be a bit tricky. You all right?” I accepted his hand and climbed to my feet. “The cracker?” “I told you it wasn’t a standard trifle.

” My stomach was very gradually coming to a rest. “Yes. You also told me we were going on a simple trip to the market.” “And so we are!” He spun with a flourish and gestured toward an old, rusty, wrought-iron gate. It stood in a simple stone arch, and beyond it I could see a small lot overrun with dry weeds. “Looks like we’re in the wrong place.” “Looks can be deceiving.” Jackaby ran a finger along he top of the gate, as if feeling for a hidden seam. “I’d have brought us directly inside, but recorporalization is strictly forbidden within the market grounds. Now if I can just remember the method to unfasten this barrier.

It’s the simple things that often prove most vexing.” He bent himself sideways as he spoke, peering at the imperfections in the metal bars and sniffing the hinges. “Well . ” I looked at the old rusty latch that hung unfastened. “We could try opening it.” “What do you think I’m doing?” he made a sort of huffing cough that might have been a guffaw. “I only need a moment. I’m sure I’ve got a bit of Ariadne’s Twine in here somewhere . or perhaps the Jericho Doorbell . ” As Jackaby rummaged in his knapsack I gave the gate a gentle shove.

It swung open with a creak. Jackaby closed his pack and looked at me. “Your mind is a testament to simplicity, Rook.” I chose to take the statement as a compliment and carried on. “It’s no real wonder the thing’s unlocked, Mr. Jackaby. There’s nothing here!” “Not nothing, the likeness of nothing.” He took me by the shoulder and we crossed the threshold. “And this market is, indeed, like nothing else.” An electric tingle sent goose bumps up my arms and put the hairs on my neck on end.

With another footstep, the curtain of a bleak terrain fell away, and we were suddenly just inside the grounds of a bustling marketplace thick with stalls and tents and flapping banners. The mingling smells of frying meats and sweet perfumes wafted to my nose, and the sounds of haggling and hustling crept into my ears. Before me, an angular man with huge gossamer wings was speaking in a strange tongue to a brutish, leathery vendor nearly as wide as his stall. Across the aisle, a bushy-bearded man with pointy ears was showing his wares to a severe woman whose entire lower half appeared to be a giant chicken. In every direction were horns, scales, and wings buying and selling peculiar vials, crystal balls, and pelts of animals I had seen only in storybooks. “Welcome,” said Jackaby, “to the Zandermacht Market.” Green light flashed in a nearby window, and purple smoke billowed from another. As I gawped at the scene, a distant, muffled explosion sent a man in dark robes shooting across the skyline like a firework. Jackaby was a fish in water, striding gaily into the crowd and taking in the sights as if every bubbling cauldron and Cyclopean skull was an old friend. I hastened after him, not wishing to be left behind.

As he marched through the aisles, leaning to admire a jackrabbit with antlers to his left or a dragon scale vest to his right, I began to notice something even more unsettling than the curious contents of the merchants’ stalls. All around, strange faces—faces with spikes and fins and fur—were turning to watch my employer. I thought I must be imagining things, until the re-articulated skeleton of what appeared to be a bird-bear turned on its suspension cables to point two empty sockets at Jackaby as he passed. “Mr. Jackaby,” I said under my breath as soon as I’d closed the distance between us, “why are so many people—and things—watching you?” My employer didn’t bother glancing around to confirm my alarm but looked at me as though I had missed some glaring truth. It was his most common expression. “Rook, I should think it obvious.” He smiled broadly. “I’m famously important.” The serene, unapologetic arrogance was oddly reassuring.

“I forget that you only typically see me at work in town,” he continued, “where my abilities are not always fully appreciated.” That was true. The last time my employer’s work had crossed paths with the local police force, we had both spent the evening in a holding cell. “You’ll find that in this setting my reputation is rather different,” he went on. “At any one time, as I’ve told you, there is only one true Seer, and I’m it, Miss Rook. Being able to see through the veil and perceive all manner of magical auras is an invaluable skill.” We arrived at a stall manned by a muscular brute with the head of an ox. He reminded me of the Minotaur from the stories. As we neared, he glowered with strangely square irises at Jackaby. “Take this booth, for example,” my employer said.

“I can tell you with certainty that those goblets are not, as advertised, goblets of plenty, but are merely enchanted with a temporary charm. That arcane scroll is a forgery, and those basilisk eggs were laid by a common ostrich.” A few of the browsing customers set down the goods they’d been inspecting and shuffled off. The Minotaur’s eyes narrowed, and he snorted hot air as he glared at Jackaby. “See? I’ve saved all those patrons from wasting their money,” Jackaby prattled on. “People love me here!” I hurried away after my oblivious employer, darting glances back at the fuming vendor until he was out of sight behind several layers of tents and tables. “Sir,” I said, “this is all incredible—but I wonder if you couldn’t slow down. It’s just a lot to take in.” “Of course. Oh, how auspicious.

Would you care for a cup of tea, Miss Rook? My treat.” We had come to a small cluster of carts selling a variety of food and drink that looked suspiciously ordinary. Having had only the charred scent of a breakfast, I accepted a cup and sat down to drink with Jackaby. “Thank you, sir. Mmm, this is actually lovely,” I said after my first tentative sip. It was a rich, dark blend, not unlike a strong Assam. “Very bracing.” “Yes, I understand that the leaves gain that robust flavor as they pass through the digestive tract of a young troll. Fascinating process.” I managed, against several powerful instincts, to swallow the last sip I had taken before setting the cup aside.


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