No indeed, Caleb Knox was not a happy sorcerer. He had very carefully tried several of the spells in the Tacitus. He had spent an entire morning considering his instructions to a broom. He had thought to instruct it to sweep the front porch for five minutes; but then he wondered if the broom would know what a minute was. So he told the broom to take one brush from left to right. The broom did as instructed. He continued to give short and concise orders to the broom and ultimately got the front porch swept. He invested a great deal more time and effort in having the broom do this job, than if he had simply swept the porch himself. But that really wasn’t the point.
Then he had very carefully tried the transport spell. He had envisioned a spot he knew just out of town, and then carefully spoke the spell. And it worked. Except that he wasn’t where he had wanted to be. He was out on a vast prairie that seemed to stretch forever. There were some scattered clouds that would have been beautiful were he not on the verge of panic. There was a roadway running in an arrow straight line a few feet behind him, and then a little ways further, and parallel to the road, was a railroad track. He made himself laugh. It was a tiny laugh and it was insincere; but it was better than crying.
‘Okay,’ he said to himself. He closed his eyes, imagined he was back in his bedroom where he had first cast the spell, concentrated on where he wanted to go, and repeated the spell. Nothing happened. He tried again. And again there was no result.
Had he miscast the spell? No, that didn’t seem right, he had definitely moved somewhere. Was the spell incomplete? Had he been dropped in the middle of the trip? But that didn’t seem right either; he had planned on going just outside of town. If he were in the middle of the trip he’d be able to see his town. Had he somehow mispronounced the words in the spell and that had misdirected him? He wished he had never heard of Tacitus, or of magic. He heard a distant buzzing and turning, looked up and down the road. At one end, almost invisible, there was a tiny red dot that was slowly growing. There was a vehicle on the road. Now what to do? Should he try and get a ride? Should he hide? If so, where? Would they even stop for him? Well, he was going to hope the vehicle would stop. He needed help he was sure of that.
He stepped up on the shoulder of the road in an effort to be conspicuous. He was not dressed for traveling so he might be even more conspicuous than he thought. He was hopeful that he might at least find out where he was. He had a few dollars in his pocket plus the emergency American Express card that his mother insisted that he carry at all times. There was a limit on it and he was only to use it in case of emergency. This was an emergency. He might have a hard time explaining to his mother how he got into this emergency, but he’d worry about that later.
The red dot had resolved itself into a small truck. He breathed a trifle easier when the engine noise diminished and the little truck appeared to be slowing.
The small truck continued to slow and came to a stop close to him. He noted that it was driving on the left side of the road; he did not recognize the make of the truck. The truck had “Royal Mail” written on the front. On the side was a logo that read “JIIIR” beneath a crown. ‘Ohmigod’ he said to himself. He grappled mentally with himself: he had definitely traveled—but where the fuck was he? The mail certainly wasn’t ‘Royal’ at home.
The driver’s side window was being rolled down, and a strikingly handsome young man was looking at him questioningly. He had radiant blue eyes, a curling mop of coal black hair, and a splash of freckles. He also had serious ears that came well out from the side of his head with dramatic points. Still, he looked comfortable and he looked safe.
“Lost, are you then?” He asked with a musical accent that again proclaimed that, wherever Caleb was, home wasn’t it. Not even close.
“Yeah. Yes. I am. Really lost.”
“Well come on. I kin run you on into town. It’s just a few miles down the road.”
Caleb ran around and clambered into the truck and sat on a jump seat next to the driver. Clearly, the truck wasn’t meant to have passengers riding in it for any length of time.
The driver got the truck moving again and then he did a curious thing. He double clutched: he pushed in the clutch, let the clutch out, then pushed it back in, blipped the gas, then he shifted gears waited a second and then engaged the clutch for the second time and the truck accelerated smoothly on. He repeated this operation twice more before he had the truck up to cruising speed. He looked over at Caleb, “Hi, I’m Charlie.” He smiled. It was a smashing smile, a sparkling heavenly smile, a world altering smile.
Caleb felt a lurching in his soul: it was rather like an earthquake, only the earth was not in motion; it was not at all caused by the lumbering truck in which he rode.
Charlie had turned back and had his eyes on the road as a conscientious driver would. He turned back and smiled quickly through his lashes at Caleb.
“Yeah. Uh. Yeah, my name’s Caleb. Great to meetcha. Uh, thanks for stoppin’.”
This was a totally inadequate speech as Caleb began to suspect he was in love.
Charlie turned and smiled beautifully, then turned back to the road, attentive to his driving. Charlie was definitely the cause of the lurching.
Caleb admired Charlie’s profile. He’d not rolled his window back up so the wind tousled and riffled his hair. It was beautiful to watch. He thought about it for a moment. He was just sixteen and had never thought much about love. But here he was, wherever here might be, and he’d known in what seemed a mere instant that he was in love with a young man he’d just met. In thinking about it, he remembered that he’d spent a lot of his time trying to make friends with other boys, but had paid scant attention to the girls in the neighborhood. Now he understood why. He knew little about the mechanics of love. Only what he’d seen in the movies and on TV, he thought achingly of the kiss in The Fosters. This wasn’t much help; but he was ready to learn.
“So yer a wizard, then? Lost yer way?” Charlie smiled.
Caleb panicked for an instant. Was there wizard law? Wizard police? Was he in trouble? Then he recovered. After all, he was in love now and Charlie obviously knew some things that he did not. He felt that Charlie could be trusted with his life.
“Dunno. Tryin’ to learn. What makes you think so?”
“Weel,” Charlie returned his attention to the road. “I bin on this route now, fer almost two years. You’re the fourth person I picked up in pretty much the exact same spot. The other three all said they were trying to go someplace else and got dumped here.”
Caleb had to begin somewhere. “Uh. Where are we?”
“We’re on the highway from Augusta to Tirones. I drive from Vesontio to Augusta three times a week.
“Look you there! It’s the Prince’s Own! Greatest express of them all; she runs clear to Kingstown, she does. Sleeping cars. Special ferry an’ all.” He looked wistful, “I’d love to drive her.”
Caleb looked up and saw a steam locomotive coming up the track at speed. He had never seen a steam locomotive before. At least he had never seen one in the steel, as it were, with smoke and steam and a sonorous whistle as she passed the truck.
“She’s a high steppin’ beauty,1 she is,” Charlie commented. He sounded his horn in reply but it was faint and flat.
Caleb went into complete sensory overload. He might have fainted were it not for Charlie’s presence and his aura of calm assurance. Of course that was part of the sensory overload, in the last few minutes: he had got himself hopelessly lost while attempting transportation magic; he had found himself alone in the emptiness of the country; he did not know where he was, but his rescuer had ears just like Walt Disney’s Peter Pan; the Peter Pan who had so enchanted him at the movies, unlike Peter Pan however, he drove an antique truck. He had just seen a steam locomotive go roaring up the railroad track and learned it was called the “Prince’s Own”. Plus, he had fallen in love at first sight which is what had probably preserved his sanity.
“Yeah,” was all that he could bring himself to say.
“So, where would ya like me to drop ya off?”
“Dunno. Still lost ya know.”
Charlie looked at him with real concern. “You been to town before, a ’course. Do you know someone there?”
“No. No one, Charlie. I’m from Des Moines. I don’t know anyone ’cept you.”
“Des Moines. Ya know, Iowa. In the US.”
“Sorry. Never heard of it.”
Dazed, Caleb watched the landscape pass without registering it. Farms started to appear; they slowed to pass several horse drawn wagons bearing produce; these were serious big wagons with four horse teams, not little Amish buggies; they slowed to a walking pace to pass through a flock of sheep without hitting one of them. There were several orchards and one vineyard. It was a long pause.
“You never heard of the United States of America?”
If Charlie had never heard of the US, where could he possibly be; Charlie worked for the post office. Mail came from around the world. Surely you could not work for the post office and not have heard of the US.
“Where am I, then?”
“We’re in the Kingdom of Ellendale. Close to the Great Range. Them are some serious mountains, ya know. You really don’t know where we are? You got amnesiac, or whatever they calls it, ya know—no memory?”
“No! My memory works just fine. I think.”
“Well,” Charlie decided after a long pause. “You’d better come home with me ’til we kin figure this out. If ya wanna, I mean.” Charlie seemed uncertain. A trifle nervous of his offer.
“Thanks, Charlie.” Caleb was certain of his acceptance.
Caleb waited the few minutes for Charlie to finish his workday at the post office. Then they walked a short two blocks to an old stone building, and went up two floors to Charlie’s “flat”.
“Here, Cal, this’ll help steady ya,” and he handed Caleb a glass of wine. It was the first time Caleb had ever had strong drink. He was steadied more by Charlie calling him ‘Cal’ than by any drink ever drunk: anywhere by anyone.
Much calmed, they discussed the situation. Charlie suggested that what he should do is use his magic to get back to where he first cast the spell; if he could do that, perhaps he could re-cast the spell and then try and come back. So he concentrated on his bedroom at home, went through the language of the spell in his head. He spoke the Latin out loud in Charlie’s sitting room and he was standing in his bedroom.
The door opened and his Mother looked in, “Did you hear that?” Caleb looked at her with an expression his Mother would believe: it was the absolute truth expression for he had heard nothing at all. “Sounded like something breaking, oh well,” and she left.
“No,” he said to the closing door. “I didn’t.” He went to the bathroom and gargled with Listerine lest his Mother smell the wine. “Mom, I wanna’ go down to the park. Maybe there’s some baseball, okay?”
“Sure, be home for dinner.”
Caleb thought of Charlie’s eyes. He went around to the back of their garage; he concentrated on Charlie’s room, said the Latin, and was back with Charlie. They looked at each other for a long moment. Charlie smiled. They kissed.
“That was wonderful,” Charlie said. So they kissed some more.
1 This was a lovely 4-6-2 and was Gary’s first new locomotive design to enter production. She was almost twice as fast as an American and was called a Pacific because Gary said so.