The Gaon of Chozzerai
by Seth Kallen Deitch
Back in the day whenever I heard that old silly question, “Where do all the lost socks go?” I would have a ready answer. “I got ‘em.” That was until I learned differently.
Pretty much since I struck out on my own…well cast out by my parents really after having acquired a very expensive education that I did nothing with, I have lived on the margins. Not once since I had been living on my own had I actually bought socks. Why should I when laundromats always had a ready supplyof odd ones? Similarly my clothes sometimes came from the same place or from thrift shops. It was my policy to never spend more than five bucks on a pair of pants or three bucks on a shirt. It just seemed to me that you had to be some kind of sucker to pay more.
“Low and easy” is how I described the way I lived. I had a fifty dollar a week room in east Cambridge. Shared bathroom down the hall. I had a hotplate even though we were technically not supposed to cook in the rooms. A few days a week, I collect cans. It’s a little tough because I have to get up early to beat out the tiny Chinese lady with her shopping cart. My sole advantage is that me on bike is faster than her on foot, but she can carry more. Even so, those couple of days are enough to keep the rent paid. I do a few odd jobs both legit and otherwise. A few shifts of day labor gets the groceries and other expenses taken care of.
I do apply for the occasional real job but the questions of interviewers are usually both boring and intrusive. I figured that getting a job at a supermarket just sweeping up and taking out the trash would be no big deal. Of course when I fill out the education section of the application, they always ask. “You have a Ph.D.… in…pez-oodo-ecks-nology?
“It is the study of false xenolites.”
“Ya don’t say. I don’t get a lot of Ph.D.s applying for the maintenance crew. Are you just going to up and leave as soon as you get something at a college or with the government?”
“Take a look at me. My days in academia are behind me. I just want to do a day’s work for a day’s pay. I’m keeping it simple these days.”
“Well Doctor Mackanac,…”
“Mack-an-aw. It’s pronounced Mack-an-aw. Spelt with a ‘c’, spoke with an ‘aw’. You don’t need to call me doctor. In fact, just call me Travis.”
He curled his lip ever so slightly, but I caught it. “Well, Travis, I don’t know that you are the best fit for this position. I’ll give you a call if things change.”
I should start telling people I’m a high school dropout. I have reaped more burdens than rewards from my education. It drove a wedge between me and my family and has aroused nothing but derision in the academic and research communities. The only reason I have that degree is because I wanted to stay in school as long as possible. Perversely I chose pseudoxenology as a focus simply because it was such an arcane field of study and I learned only after I had presented my thesis that no one had previously been awarded a doctorate in this field. My advisor was the well known xenologist Baird Shumway who just assumed I knew. My dissertation was mostly doubletalk, and I still got the degree. My father was royally pissed when he learned that it would be very unlikely to get me a job of any kind. If the old bastard was still alive, he would laugh to see it had in fact prevented me from getting a job as a janitor.
Anyway, this is about lost socks, remember? I learned where they really go.
This guy lived in the room about four doors down from me. His name was Rocky, at least that’s what everyone called him. He was an old guy who had done thirty years in Walpole for something he didn’t want to talk about and, frankly, I probably didn’t want to hear about it if it was bad enough to buy him thirty years. He worked at a car wash three days a week and the rest of the time he spent watching TV or down at Claytons where he would nurse a single beer for three hours and bum smokes. He liked to make deals, stupid little deals. He would trade trinkets with other people, stupid items of dubious worth. He would find an Audubon field guide to songbirds of southern Missouri in a free box somewhere and would trade it to someone for a well-used 1964 World’s Fair souvenir ashtray. Whatever gets him through the day, I guess.
Anyway, Rocky always had a bunch of odd items in his room and I got to see most of them because I played cards with him in his room every once in a while. On the evening when this all started he was showing me a paperback copy of Jungle Tales of Tarzan.
“I actually got it autographed by Burroughs the same year I got out!” I did a bit of calculation. I didn’t know a whole lot about the author of Tarzan, but I thought I knew that he had died within a decade of the end of World War II. I looked at the title page and sure enough there was a signature of William S. Burroughs. The thing about Rocky is that little things escape him. I could have pointed his error out, but he would have just not understood or argued me to death about it.
“Hey, will you look at that! You ought to be able to get a few bucks for this.”
“You bet I will, brother!”
While he was gloating over his prize I spied something else in the cardboard box he pulled it out of, an obsidian black polished stone with an inscription carved into it. It was in some foreign alphabet. I plucked it up. “Whazzis, Rocky?”
Rocky squinted at the item. “I took that off of that whiney little fuck Eddie when he didn’t pay me back two bucks he owed. Who knows where the hell he got it. Didn’t help me any, the pawn shop wasn’t interested.”
I rolled it over in my hand. It was a fat disc, would have been a lens if it had been made of glass, but it was dense, black stone, like basalt but darker and harder. It had been buffed to a high polish. The two lines of glyphs that marked the surface didn’t look primitive. They looked like they had been carved with a machine. “It’s kind of nice.” I remarked.
“Yeah? Tell ya what, gimme Eddie’s two bucks and it’s yours.” I paid him, stuck the thing in my pocket and forgot about it.
I found it again two days later and pondered it some. I may spend some time with Rocky, but there are clear differences between him and me. He is utterly lacking in curiosity. His judgment of any item begins and ends with his estimate of its monetary worth. At the public library I was unable to find an exact match for the curvilinear letters until I realized that it was actually a more wiggly version of the Latin alphabet that was written right to left. The language seemed to have romance roots.
Please understand that I couldn’t have figured out even this much if I had not previously examined hundreds of xenolites and had been schooled in recognizing their particular characteristics. I suppose that I had better get into that a bit, it’s not a subject that a lot of people encounter every day. Like I told you, I’m a pseudoxenologist by training. Xenolites are a phenomenon that arises from parallel field generators where the reality of our universe encounters another parallel universe, a “xenocontinuum”. The xenolite is an artifact that is cognate to an artifact of our world, but showing the characteristics of another universe with a differing history, sometimes even differing natural laws. Study of these objects is an esoteric pursuit, but important because they are our sole window into these parallel worlds.
My particular field of study is considerably more esoteric than even that. Pseudoxenology is the study of so-called false xenolites. The best way I can describe a false xenolite is to point out that malfunctions can occur in parallel field equipment. Overloads, imbalances, voids and the occurrence of pulsed wave banding, commonly called “stelching”, are all ubiquitous anomalies. These anomalies can, on rare occasions, lead to a transitional matrix void and nature, abhorring a vacuum as it does, hastens to insert a mass based on almost any fancy in the operator’s subconscious. The items that are precipitated by these existential hiccups are referred to as false xenolites. The forms these parasubstantive bodies take is wild and variant, frequently defying reason. There are exactly twenty-three of these objects known to exist. The first and most famous of these is the eternally vibrating doorknob. It is a perfectly ordinary brass doorknob bearing manufactures marks indicating that it was made in Illinois in the 1920’s. Since it appeared it has never ceased emitting a 74 cycle hum. There is no source of energy for this. The vibration takes place with complete disregard of the laws of thermodynamics. It has even been suggested that it should be destroyed for fear it might eventually set the entire world off kilter. I have held this object in my hand and it seems innocent enough.
There have been others that are not quite so spectacular. An apparent human turd that smells strongly of roses, a 78 rpm tango record that glows in the dark, a perfectly normal looking potato that in photographs appears to be a large strawberry and so on. What distinguishes these baffling objects is that they cannot be created by design under any circumstances; they are always the product of chance combined with inattention. The false xenolite must be produced by accident. That accident must include a subconscious vision by the operator. We know this as the “Aladdin’s Lamp” effect. The experimenter’s inner self makes a secret wish and the multiverse answers it. Are you surprised that there was no job for someone devoted to the study of these things?
In any case, I was pretty sure that the object that Rocky took from Eddie was a xenolite. How Eddie got it was something that I would never learn. I was able to get an idea of what the inscription said or rather I had a few possible translations only a couple of which made marginal sense. “Throw it to face” was one, “cast for escape/face” was another. I wasn’t really able to get too far with that.
The xenology stuff was more than two decades behind me. I have to admit that I was surprised that it drew me back in again. I wanted to learn more about the stone. One of the guys that Rocky knew from Clayton’s was a janitor at the Harvard science library and could get me into the stacks. They were sure to have a copy of the Dilmount Catalogue.
The guy was willing to do it for a case of beer and he said if anyone asked me, I’d better not mention his name. It took me a short time, but I finally found the weighty three volumes of the 2000 updated Catalogue of known Xenolitic Objects issued by the Dilmount Institute. Twenty-six thousand two-hundred and sixteen objects, some of them living, four of them human, are enumerated, described and mostly accompanied by photographs are entered in these tomes. They are arranged by number in order of discovery with a DC (Dilmount Catalogue) number, an X followed by six digits and possibly additional digits that indicate the location of the discovery. There is also an appendix enumerating twenty-three false xenolites, my particular specialty. It was all quite organized. Unfortunately, the object I had, if it was ever labeled that label was long lost. I had a few hours to go through all three volumes page by page praying that it had been catalogued and photographed. If it were a real xenolite, someone would likely pay well for its return.
I flipped through page after page. About two-thirds of the way through the second volume I saw it in a grainy black and white photo identified thusly.
X-009421-6, Inscribed polished stone, 175.7 gm, recovered 6/10/1935 MIT, Dr. D. L. Edelman, Xenocontinuum of origin unknown
It wasn’t a lot of information, but it was enough to legitimize my suspicion. The brevity of the entry made me think it had not been the subject of a great deal of study. The sub number attached indicated that it was one of a string of xenolite acquisitions in a short time and perhaps the least interesting of them. That in fact turned out to be the case. In the same session an entire newspaper (X-009421-8) came through. Finds like this are considered to be staggeringly valuable. The stone was nothing by comparison.
According to the index of names, this Edelman character disappears from the history of parallel studies about a month after this find. That didn’t strike me as unusual. As likely as not he was a graduate student who had finished, or decided to discontinue his studies. It happens all the time. There was no notation concerning the present location of the object. At the time this edition of the catalogue was printed, it must have been presumed to still be in MIT’s collection. That was bad news for me. If it had been noted as having been loaned, lost or misplaced, then a story of finding it at a yard sale or in a junk shop would hold water. If it had been merely stolen, I would probably not make anything but a small reward for returning it, but I ran the chance of being accused of its theft.
I was pissed off. The entire thing seemed like a waste of time. I pulled the stupid thing out of my pocket and glared at it in the palm of my hand. I had had about enough of this thing. With my typical reserve and maturity, I flung it at the cinderblock wall of the stack room hoping to break it into a hundred pieces.
What happened instead was a dim flash of pinkish light followed by something that looked like water ripples in the wall. The ripples subsided and I was looking into someplace else and it wasn’t the office on the other side of the wall. On the floor was sort of a glittering path along the trajectory that I had tossed the stone. The stone itself was lying on it right where the wall once had been. I stepped over and picked it up and then took a better look through the portal that had opened. There was a dim gray sky overhead with no obvious point source of light. Rather the entire firmament seemed to exude a dim luminance. The light level was like early twilight.
Almost without thinking I stepped through the portal, which still rippled slightly at the edges. I touched the edge where wall faded to open space in a half transparent, half mirror reflective watery miasma. I pulled back quickly. The sensation was like a combination of a mild electric shock and being bitten by angry ants.
I was viewing a bland landscape, flat and dusty without trees or any other plants for that matter. There were a few stones strewn about. Due to the quality of the light they cast no shadows. Also there were a number of mounds. They didn’t look like hills, more like heaps of debris of various colors, garbage maybe. In the distance, I guessed about a quarter mile, there was a group of buildings. I squinted my eyes to try and make them out a bit better in the low contrast light and took a few steps forward. I had actually walked about ten feet before I even wondered if it was a good idea. I turned around and looked back and saw no sign of the portal. “Fuck!” I yelped and ran back to the site where I thought it had been. I waved my hands around trying to find it and shouted “Fuck!” again. “Oh my fucking God! How stupid can I be?!?”
I had no idea exactly how it had happened, but I knew what had happened. I had stepped into a xenocontinuum.
How long I stood there damning my stupidity is anyone’s guess. There was no sun in the sky, if indeed the gray vault above me really qualified as a “sky”. The steady dim light remained the same and I wore no watch to contradict it with. Eventually I started to make my way toward the group of structures in the distance.
As I walked I encountered a few of the mounds I had seen from a distance. The first of them was a pile of socks of all colors about ten feet high. A little farther on I found a pile of wedding and engagement rings six feet high. It must have been a few of tons of gold and diamonds. I could have filled my pockets with them and lived for years by pawning one every week. I resolved to remember where they were, but I was pretty sure there were no hockshops here.
The little assembly of buildings was not quite what I would call a town. There were two stone buildings that looked like banks or museums or city-halls, that sort of Greek temple kind of style sort of thing. There was also a two story wood frame house painted white. It just stood there on the dirt. No lawn, no fence. Beside it was another mound that was entirely canned goods, mostly without labels. Beside the mound of cans was a guy with a wheelbarrow who was loading it up. I decided to introduce myself.
“Hey, man!” I called as I approached. The guy jerked as if he had been stung and whipped around to face me. He had sort of the look of a dirt-poor medieval peasant only he was wearing more or less modern clothes. He had what I thought was a kilt of some sort, but on closer examination I realized it was the lower part of a terry-cloth bathrobe sticking out from under a brownish 1930’s style suit jacket. On his feet were mismatched sneakers. On his head was a backwards baseball cap. He was unshaven, but the hair on his face didn’t really qualify as a beard either. His demeanor was both slightly frightened and shifty at the same time. Although he looked skinny and weak, I decided not to get within arms length of him. You never know. “Do you know what this place is?”
He cocked his head and his eyes shifted right and left as if he was making sure he was unobserved. “Yeah, sure. I know what this place is. Why wouldn’t I, huh?” His accent was the Brooklynese of a thirties movie comic relief character.
“You mind telling me?”
“Tellin’ you what?”
“Where I am.”
“You’re right there!”
I took a deep breath. “Who’s in charge around here? The main guy, the head honcho?”
“Ya mean the Gaon?”
“Maybe. Is he the boss?”
“Yeah, yeah. He’s the boss. Whatcha want him for?”
“I’m thinking he might give me a straight answer.”
The guy threw his hands out. “Ya think I ain’t straight? Ya got some nerve!”
“Can you just tell me where to find him please?”
He jerked his thumb at the house next to us. “Right dere. Good luck to ya brudder!” He picked up the wheelbarrow and headed off toward a collection of shanties in the distance.
I went over to the door of the house. It had no foundation looking like it had just been dropped there as if it was a toy house rendered full sized. I knocked. No answer. I knocked again and this time heard movement inside. I called out “Hello! Is anyone there?”
The door was flung open and I found myself nose to nose with a guy wearing coke-bottle glasses. He had a pointed nose and slicked back brown hair. “What?!?” He snapped. He pulled up short, looked startled and stepped back. “Please forgive me, I thought you were a Schmendrick!”
“We just met! That’s a bit judgmental.”
He seemed perplexed. “What? Nevermind, come in, come in, come in!” He beckoned me impatiently to enter. The man was tall and lean, but not scrawny like the guy I met outside. The inside of the house was furnished with various second hand pieces. Nothing matched but it wasn’t shabby either. There was no television, phone, radio or computer in evidence nor did there seem to be electric power. The house was lit with sconces on the walls that emitted a steady yellow-orange glow. I looked inside one and saw that it had a brilliantly glowing stone held in a screw clamp. How it worked, I didn’t know.
“So”, I asked, “are you the um, Gaon?”
“The Schmendricks call me that.”
“You thought I was a Schmendrick.”
“You’re not, I hope. The Schmendricks are all still here because they couldn’t think to pick up the key.”
“The Key! The way into this furshlugginer place!”
Ah-ha! I thought to myself. I was thinking that I might do well to play dumb.
“The key you used to get here!”
I thought fast. “Hey, I didn’t use a key. I was assuming that I was dead and this was the afterlife.”
“Afterlife! You better hope not! This is no heaven! How did you get here?”
“Um, I was taking a walk in the park, I stopped to just pitch a few rocks and I saw a shining path. I followed it and here I am.”
“Feh! You’re another Schmendrick alright.” He rolled his eyes briefly upward. “ Why don’t they pick up the key, ever? Alright, alright. I’m the Gaon, I’m in charge around here, but my only rule is that you don’t bother me! There is plenty of everything here, you’ll do fine. Everything lost by anyone ends up here. Why, don’t ask me. There is clothing, there is food, there is even money, gold and jewels for all the good they will do you here.”
“Where is ‘here’?”
“I have a bunch of names for this little world, not a one of them nice. Mostly I call it Chozzerai after its only natural resource.”
“It means ‘crap’, Schmendrick. Welcome to the land of crap. Now, if you don’t mind, I have many things to be doing.”
“Wait a minute! How do I get out of here?”
“You don’t. Not without the key. If you had that you could come and go as you please. Those piles of lost stuff would be worth something.” Yes they would be. If I played my cards right I could be kissing my bottom feeder life goodbye.
“What’s the key?”
“Schmuck! You must have had it in your hand! You throw it against a wall and the way opens up. If you were not such a Schmendrick, you would have picked it up and brought it with you. It could get you out the same way. It also opens the museum and the library, but you are a Schmendrick and you didn’t, so please, you need to be getting out of my house now!”
“Alright, alright. I’m going, but can I come back if I have more questions?”
“So what am I, the answer man? Yes, yes you can come back, but don’t be making me crazy. Now go.” He hustled me out and slammed the door.
So now what? I knew how to go home, but I had to play it smart or this gaon guy will figure out I have the key. I still didn’t know what his story was, but I had to just avoid him as much as possible and let him think I’m just another Schmendrick. That pile of gold and diamond rings was definitely on my mind.
I looked around and saw the pile of cans. What the hell, I could eat. I went over to it and scanned around for one with a label. A lot of them were dog food. I finally found a can of baked beans. Of course, no can opener. I went back and knocked on the door again. The Gaon opened up. “What now?”
“Do you have a can opener I could borrow?”
He palmed his face and groaned. He looked up and said “Look, you are going to have to get better at schmendricking than that. About a mile over that way is a three-story pile of kitchen utensils. Now scram!” He slammed the door.
That was a long walk for a can opener. On the way I stopped at a pile of cash of all nations. I sorted out a few hundred bucks American. There were also coins. I thought about digging for some Krugerands or Canadian maple leaf coins, but decided there would be time enough for that later. I also found a pile of water bottles, most of them half used, but a little digging got me a couple of unopened ones. I finally found the pile of kitchen gadgets, which was the biggest of the piles I had seen yet. I found a can opener and a fork, and then I got a big kitchen knife in case I ran into trouble.
I found the village of the Schmendricks shortly after I ate. There weren’t a lot of these guys, a dozen or so, all male. It was a collection of shanties made from whatever is at hand with varying amounts of skill. I had no evidence that there was any weather in Chozzerai, so they must have been mostly for privacy and personal space. I figured if I was going to be a Schmendrick, I probably ought to have one. The guy I had seen with the wheelbarrow was nearby so I went up to him. “Hey buddy, is it o.k. if I build a house here?”
“Waddam I, yer mudder? Do waddever ya want.”
I spent some time there. I was going to need a base of operations. I built myself a little Schmendrick house using lost cell phones as bricks held together with lost containers of glue. It was a process that took far longer than I at first thought it would. I really knew nothing about laying bricks, particularly when they took the form of thousands of oddly-shaped cell phones.
One of the Schmendricks, Joe by name, showed me where I could get something they called “glow stones”. They were the glowing rocks that I saw in the Gaon’s house. They came from a place right next to the end of the world.
It turns out that this Chozzerai place isn’t very big. The Schmendricks told me it was about fifty square miles and the area where the Gaon and most of the Schmendricks lived was about five miles from one of the edges. The “End of the World” is what they called the edge. The physical laws of the place break down there. Everything is normal, for this place that is, until you are about a hundred yards away from it. Then the ground gets rippled like waves in water but it’s still solid. As you get closer there are deep cracks and the glow stones are in those cracks. If you go farther than that everything turns an even gray like a dense fog almost. If you walk into it, you find yourself walking right out the way you came without even feeling yourself turn around. It feels weird as shit, like you are walking through yourself or something. I tried it once and that was all I needed.
The glow stones were already broken up into small pieces in the cracks and that’s a good thing because they are harder than anything you can find to break ‘em with. The Schmendricks claimed they were harder than diamonds. You could collect them with your hands. They were only slightly warm even though they gave off this glowing coal type of light. All you had to do to put a lamp together was to make some kind of a bracket to hold one and there you go. This was how everyone lit the inside of their houses. The glow stones didn’t give off enough heat to cook with and the Schmendricks ate their food mostly cold out of the can. In spite of the fact that there was no shortage of disposable lighters, they didn’t start fires very often because smoke doesn’t go away. It will hang around for days because there is no wind and the top of the “sky” is pretty low.
The only way I could mark time was by how often I got tired and slept. By my calculations I had been there ten days. My little phone brick shanty was finished complete with interior lighting and a comfy bed made of lost socks. I finally closed the door and promptly threw the key against the wall. The path opened up on the other side was part of Massachusetts Avenue near Central Square in the middle of the night. I picked up the key and walked through looking out for cars as I went. It must have been really early morning. I walked up to Central and into the Dunkin Donuts. The clock on the wall said quarter after four AM. I got a coffee and a bagel sandwich and sat down. Someone had left a Herald at the table and I saw that nine days had passed. I went home and slept in my own bed for a few hours.
I got up around ten and was heading out when someone knocked on my door. It was Rocky. “Where in hell have you been? The manager is looking for the rent. He said he was going to put your shit on the sidewalk tomorrow if you didn’t show.”
“Family emergency. I had to leave town. I’ll give Stan his money before I go out.”
I found the manager and paid him a month in advance, so he was happy then I headed for the hardware store. I also went to the army & navy surplus. Once I had my supplies I went to the car park building behind the supermarket and scanned around until I spotted a car that would be easy to hotwire. Toss the key, go pick it up, drive through and I was in.
This time I was farther from the Gaon’s place, almost a mile away so hopefully no one would spot me driving around. There were several piles of cash I had spotted on my last visit. I went to the farthest one and filled up two surplus duffel bags. From a pile of jewelry I filled up a couple of small canvas back packs.
Getting back in a place where it was safe to take the car took a bit of thinking. I finally decided to drive back to my own little shanty. I waited until I thought it would be quiet early morning and then went to the Schmendrick village. A few Schmendricks saw me as I got out of the car, threw and picked up the key and got back in and drove through. I had a pile of cash and other goodies, but the beans had been spilt. I took the bags home and then parked the car in downtown Boston and took the T home.
I could have left well enough alone, but I had a feeling that the real mother load was in the two Greek temple buildings. Knowing about them just made me restless. I took my time. I had plenty of money. I took the small bills and changed them for bigger ones and then got a safe deposit box. I had a bit less than a hundred grand so I’d be good for a while. I started getting rid of the jewelry using various of the gold buyers that advertise on TV. Those guys are ready made fences. They don’t care where anything came from and I could afford to just get weight on the stuff. I got a post office box to receive the checks. No need to make the neighbors wonder why I was getting so much mail.
The next part was going to take some discretion. The next time I went into this Chozzerai place the Gaon and the Schmendricks would know what I was up to and that I had the key. It seemed like a bit of insurance was in order. I had never even held a gun in my hand, not ever. I sure as hell didn’t know where to get one, but I was pretty sure I ought to have one. Unsurprisingly Rocky knew a guy.
Every one of those people in that little pocket universe were likely to do anything they can to get the key from me. I would just have to tell them that I’m sorry. I considered allowing them all to leave, but I realized that The Gaon and a dozen Schmendricks more or less would be too many people that could blow this deal for me.
I took a little time to get ready, but not too much. I didn’t want the people on the other side to get organized. I wasn’t very worried, except for the Gaon, they didn’t seem like organized types. I wasn’t even sure why the Gaon was seen as being in charge. There was no evidence that he either did anything to or for the Schmendricks. I got a used van of my own. There was no point in complicating matters by using stolen vehicles if I didn’t have to. I also got a watch. I debated if I should get help and decided against it. More than one person is too many to keep a secret. If I played this thing right, I could get these guys working for me.
I went through at a garden wall on Beacon Street in Somerville and ended up a mile or so from the Schmendrick village. No one was nearby and I probably went unseen. I drove a wide arc keeping my distance past piles of iPods, earrings, library books, homework, train tickets, spectacles, postage stamps and of course socks, many huge piles of socks.
Finally I came up behind the Gaon’s house. There was only one window on that side and I was gambling that he wasn’t looking out of it at the moment. My idea was to zip past and get into one of the buildings before he knew what was going on. I went past and he didn’t come out of the house so I stopped in front of the building he had called the Library and ran up the steps. As I reached the top, I heard “Hey!” from behind me.
The Gaon was running out from behind a pile of wallets as he called to me. I ignored him and turned my attention to the door. I thought maybe I was going to have to throw the key against it, but there was actually a depression in it the exact size of the key. I fitted it in and the door clicked open. I plucked out the key, quickly entered and shut it behind me. Two seconds later I heard pounding and the Gaon calling. “Open up you schnorrer! You schmuck! You gonif!” I let him carry on as much as he wanted. He wasn’t going to get through the Library’s massive door.
The inside of the place was opulent with polished wood and brass trim on everything. There were books, millions of them on shelves that reached to the high domed ceiling. Other rooms opened off of the central one each labeled in the same language that appeared on the key. They were film and recording archives and another for sheet music. There was a room for paintings and sculpture and a room devoted to the collection of the great Library of Alexandria filled with scrolls in Greek, Egyptian and Persian. This was the Library of Lost Knowledge. I noted as I perused some of the books that they were all works lost to history, The History of the World by Berossus, several plays by Shakespeare that no one had ever heard of, works by Socrates, most of the paintings of Vermeer and Da Vinci and the lost opera of Scott Joplin. As well there were imaginary works that had never really existed but somehow found solidity in this place. The King in Yellow by Castaigne, The Pension Grillparzer by T.S. Garp, Life by Unspiek Baron Bodissey, A First Encyclopaedia of Tlön, the Necronomicon by Abdul Alhazared, An Oral History of the Contemporary World by Joe Gould, the original Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Unaussprechlichen Kulten by Friedrich von Junzt, Upon the Distinction Between the Ashes of the Various Tobaccos, by Sherlock Holmes and all nineteen volumes of Hansard’s Guide to Refreshing Sleep to name a few. It would take a thousand scholars a thousand years to assess its content.
As magnificent as the place was, I realized that I should have gone to the museum first. There was little there that I would have been able to load into the van and take back across to make into quick cash.
The Gaon had stopped pounding on the door. I was guessing that he had gone to the Schmendricks for help. I decided to try and dash across to the museum. The door wouldn’t open until I discovered that the key was required for exit as well as entry. I carefully stuck my head out of the door and saw that no one was around and then ran down the stairs. I saw that the van hadn’t been tampered with so I continued across to the museum.
Above the heavy bronze door were more of the strange glyphs that I had now become more adept at translating. They read “The Museum of Ultimate Power”. This sounded a bit more promising. On either side of the massive marble stairway stood bronze statues, Behemoth on the left and Leviathan on the right, both in poses of aroused menace. I spent only a scant few seconds looking at them as I ran up to the door and placed the key into the depression and the doors swung open on their own. There was a rotunda with a short thick pedestal in the center. Upon it sat a golden chest surmounted by gold angels with outstretched wings, the Ark of the Covenant. I stepped forward for a better look and heard the doors close behind me.
As I wandered through the galleries, I saw the most amazing things. In a long glass case was Excalibur gleaming with power and potency. Under a glass bell jar was Green Lantern’s ring and power battery, under another the Philosopher’s Stone and still another enclosed the One Ring of Middle Earth. Aladdin’s Lamp was in a case in one corner. One pedestal held a machine that generated a powerful magnetic field that suspended a single drop of the Universal Solvent weightlessly inside of an evacuated transparent tube. The Holy Grail was on a dusty shelf on one wall right beside the Eye of Agamotto. The Urim and Thummim had their own case illuminated with a glow stone lamp. In another case sat the shamir stone in a wool padded lead box. Inscribed on a black stone tablet was the Anti-Life Equation and in a case nearby was the Cosmic Cube. Another glass dome covered a piece of the Fruit from the Tree of Knowledge. A test tube held a sample of Ice-9 and in the same case were to be seen samples of Kryptonite, Unobtainium, Scrith, Cavorite and Doctor Pipt’s Powder of Life.
Another shelf held a can of Popeye’s special spinach, the pipe of J.R. “Bob” Dobbs and the lollypop of Herbie, the Fat Fury. Separate pedestals held Felix the Cat’s Bag of Tricks and The Phantom Zone projector. The strange Subtle Knife was in a case of its own as was the spear of Longinus. The Ultimate Nullifier and a crackling Thunderbolt of Zeus had their places as did The Great Book of OZ. There were dozens of doomsday devices from both real and imagined worlds and there were also devices of powerful creation like the mysterious Clavius Monolith and the Genesis Device. The Cosmic Egg was held in its own little pocket of space-time with a window through it could be viewed, its one-eyed tadpoles of Yin and Yang dancing forever in a circle. There was a whole hall devoted to Time Machines and another to perpetual motion!
It was dizzying to be surrounded by these items, any one of which could make me a king. Some of them could make me a god!
Behind me I heard a metallic click.
I whirled around and reached for my gun, but I found myself facing the Gaon with a gun of his own pointed at my heart while I was still trying to get mine out. “You really are a Schmendrick. You left the key in the door. Drop the gun.”
I pulled the pistol out of my belt and dropped it on the floor. “Where’d you get that anyway?”
“You nudnik! You think no one loses a gun ever?”
He marched me back toward the door and motioned for me to sit on one of the marble benches. “Now what?” I asked.
“Now you tell me your story. The average Schmendrick never got into the museum or the Library.”
“Stop calling me that, man. You’re every bit as much a Schmendrick as I am!”
“Whatever you say. What do you want me to call you?”
“Travis Mackanac is my name. What about you, did your mother name you ‘the Gaon’?”
“One of the Schmendricks called me that. It means ‘genius’. He was being sarcastic. I’m Daniel Edelman.”
“D.L. Edelman! You discovered the xenolite! The Key.”
He raised his eyebrow. “So you know a little something about xenolites!”
“I have a Ph.D. in pseudoxenology.”
“I am impressed! In my day too little was known about false xenolites for anyone to make it the focus of their life’s work.”
I gave a short laugh. “Not in my day either.”
“Well, mister Peseudoxenologist, you have stumbled upon the most important discovery in your field! This whole world is a false xenolite—created by me on the tenth of June, nineteen thirty-five and I was foolish enough to trap myself here that same year.”
“You ought to be a lot older, that was seventy-six years ago.”
He shook his head. “Oy gevalt! I didn’t know it had been quite that long. There are different laws of nature here. None of us have gotten any older. You should have plenty of time to study the Museum and the Library.”
“What the hell are you talking about?”
“You came here to take things and you were going to leave us here, perhaps kill some of us if we tried to stop you. I am thinking that you are not such a very good man, doctor Mackanac.”
“‘Whatever’, he says. It would not be so good for the world if you were to bring things from the Museum back with you. I have not seen our world in a long time, but I think perhaps it has troubles enough without that. Without you as well, maybe.”
In the Museum there was a powerful robot that looked like it came out of a thirties science fiction pulp. Edelman ordered it to hold me by the wrist for one hour. He propped open the doors of the Library and the Museum and then piled the Schmendricks and himself, all fourteen of them, into the van, tossed the key, picked it up and drove out of Chozzerai.
The battery in my watch hasn’t died yet. I have been here for six years so far. After the robot let me go, it would take orders from me, so I had it tear off the doors of the Museum and Library so there wouldn’t be any accidents. None of the devices in the Museum will open a way home for me. I guess one of the laws of this place is that the Key and only the Key provides access.
I keep hoping that Edelman will take pity on me and let me out. Certainly there could be worse prisons. Chances are that Edelman will always believe that I shouldn’t be let out. He will have to grow old and die and someone else will find and finally use the Key. I hope that person won’t be the kind of Schmendrick that forgets to pick it back up.
About the Author
Seth Kallen Deitch was born into a creative family and like his brothers also had need of artistic expression. In Seth’s case, the muses were fickle, leading him first one way, then another. Sculptor, musician, publisher, graphic artist and painter are all things he called himself at one time or another. He produced a respected ‘zine called “Get Stupid”, did comics for Kitchen Sink and (under the name of Fishmonger Grafix Studios) was even among the legion of illustrators who contributed to Rudy Rucker’s book A User’s Guide to the New Edge. It wasn’t until he was in his late thirties that literature caught his fancy and finally stuck. His work has appeared in diverse publications. His favorite project to date has been Deitch’s Pictorama, which he produced for Fantagraphics Books with his brothers Kim and Simon and his Father Gene.
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