Nemeancules – John Baek

This story is dedicated to my fellow readers and viewers of fantasy and science fiction who may sometimes yearn for realization of the cherished magics and disparate worlds which are conventionally unavailable (physically, in the strictest sense of the word) to them.

A full list of all of the references is provided at the end.


a tribute to Ulysses and the lore of the speculative

It held him as snugly as mithril, as gently as a weave of Water and Air of the One Power — his desire to know more, to learn! To fasten his Muggle-world paroxysms, stilted as they were by the absence of Magic, into a relocation of the imagination onto a new reality. Santa Claus didn’t exist but oh ho ho he did to the children sneaking downstairs after midnight. The warrens of K’rul were still closed to him but for a Highprince of MuggleEarth 616, they existed. “Alohomora” was too weak a spell, “open sesame” too gilded, “Mellon” specifically for the Doors of Durin, but with his newly wrought AllOpener (pilfering his mother’s keys had almost cost him an arm and a leg), he was confident.

          He closed the laptop.


          Life was hard for the wanderer of dreams. Sometimes he wished he’d actually meet Dream himself with his spiky black hair and eyes of starlight, but Colon had 800 more lines of code to debug. He got up from the chair and almost gasped when an electric shock lanced through his body. Sat too long daydreaming and not doing any COS. Felt like time travel. He stretched more fully, finally turning his head to see the sun’s fell light pouring in through the tall window — one of many ill-defended apertures bestriding Bloomburger, his sorry excuse of a barrack. It was hot inside; he was practically being microwaved in there.

          A small lion trinket dangled from his neck. It had been given to him by his late father (a tall mirror lay against the far wall, but he never looked) as a good-luck charm, for “getting those numbers right.” Well, shit. Colon couldn’t even get his shoes tied in the morning, let alone do linear algebra at 9 a.m. The lion roared — in his head. No debts were paid.

          “Where’s my backpack?” he asked no one in

particular, except Trinity (his triceratops sitting guard on his bed). “Ah, probably left it in the common room again.” GRAOWW. He ignored it; his hearing was going out in one ear, but he could tell between his desiring stomach (it was almost time to order milk) and a miniature feline scratching at his neck with claws that barely tingled. Wait, what?

          He looked down at the lil’ lion — he’d been considering Leo (trite), Tiger (funny, but overplayed), and Lemur (so far Lemur sounded best) — at Lemur, whose glinting body was moving around as if it were real. STOP. It was real. All it took was a little shifting of the imagination. Yes. It had been ages since he last spoke with a lion, the last in Narnia, but here goes — remember your speaking lessons in Paris.

          « Comment ça va, Monsieur? » he asked Lemur.

 “I don’t speak French, human. Put me down, silk voodoo plaits.

          Taking off the necklace and unhooking M. Lemur took longer than expected. He’d be late for class at this rate. Once the creature was free, he hurled it to the floor and it didn’t crash to bits, since it was made of plastic.

          The Panthera Leo brushed off its haunches before clearing its throat.

          “I am here on a quest of the utmost importance. I come from a galaxy far, far away and am here now to make humble bequest unto you, mortal son, of the Origin — with it, you will be able to access any other world you wish —”

            Reaching down and picking up the thing, bending

it this way and that, setting it on fire — wax melted easily — with some quick bending was a matter of choice and five seconds. The sunlight continued to burn. He muttered “Aguamenti” and watered the charred spot, brushed off his khakis, disremembered his pater origins. No Luke here.

A distance so short that it didn’t require the Millennium Falcon later…

Colon had his own means of obtaining the histories, not counting the Akashic Records of course, which he wouldn’t attempt to access until he was at least El’the. No underground passages were involved although it was his fifth library card.

          It was a clear day. Ripe for taint. Somewhere up in the fabricated clouds, Saint Bradbury sat, fingering his antennae. The library lay below, a horrendous construction only because its Greek columns and artless triptych doors feigned the Classical when the Multiverse and Magical and Mummified also lay within. He shouldered his backpack, empty, a gaping unzippered Charybdis waiting for the annals. His hands were comfortably ensconced in his jacket pockets; they held no currants.

          He missed Aslan. Nice guy.

          The doors led to no afterlife (may Sirius rest in peace) but did lead to an easily maneuvered security bypass. The grunt didn’t even have a katana on him. Colon’s lightsaber did need practice but whatever. Small fry.

          After passing through, he felt the wintry zephyrs djawadian bustle around him, coming in from the loveless open door, freezing his heart to no sequel as the jacket was Canada Goose (not his, but he had to thank that one stranger) and the stolen backpack breathed it in eagerly. The atrium’s freshly mopped linoleum showed no bottomless Tartarus transparently below his weathered face, newly unwashed from the morning. He looked up to the rusted bronze lettering of PREENSTOWN CAMPUS LIBRARY that themselves kneeled beneath the University mascot, a fiery lion’s head burning resplendent in the early sunlight gaze. It wasn’t the symbol of the Protectorate or U.A., but it was capitalism all the same. Colon’s responding thesis was one of cold that required warmth. He was the last firebender; ol’ Bradbury would disapprove.

          He walked on the un-crystal ball-like floor to the second floor, through aisle after unguarded aisle — these tomes were precious, did they not realize? Each was an isolated pond in one nigh-infinite forest, an unbarred gratis door to another realm, a strange ring of light that gave its reader a comfort of invisibility from the “real world” outside. Thank the stars there were more than one, be blest they didn’t corrupt.

          He found the correct wood — Aisle CL-CZ, Cleonae to Charizard. He entered.

          O! If only he was immortal! He wouldn’t need his mortal container. He’d sit there, swathed in shadow (it was a narrow aisle), past closing, evading the mortal keepers with their brooms of mock ash, as the long winter came to pass and the dream of spring became the present… but another was in the aisle.

          It was a freshman, he could discern beneath the flood of lipstick and shabbily concealed class number emblazoned across the shirt, and the girl was pretending to read The Twelve Labours of Hercules by James Riordan. First off, that belonged in a different aisle; second, anything written by a Riordan was fake news. If he recalled correctly, he had given the hunk thirteen assignments, not twelve, and all were graded either “you shall not pass” or “there is no fail, only not try” but that was besides the point: lil’ Miss America had invaded his demesne. “You are a stranger, and this is my home,” he began.

          She stood up almost immediately and dropped the book — cover, for she was actually flaunting The Merits of Taking Computer Science, ha! He had to laugh, and sneeze he did, for lil’ Miss Riding Hood was pawing at a lost cause and sure as Hades didn’t belong here. “I won’t be serving you my bread and salt,” he continued, as the girl, without uttering a single word in plaintive defense, scurried away, her cloak gone with the wind. The lying textbook plummeted, and just before it struck liquid metal, Colon Seeker swept in and caught it, smooth as Quicksilver. The aisle was now his, the crowded shelves stunned silent, the subservient pages settled gently in his outstretched hand. Well, that monologue was terminated.

          He had no iron throne to sit and the floor’s sparse sand could hide no sandworms — the wicker lamp above was dimming — the stack of river stones he’d been adding to each day, on the bottom shelf to his right, had collapsed — the Walmart rug adorning the space betwixt the aisles was now looking bedraggled. He searched his pockets for his library card — it was tangled amidst his earbuds, wiretap to a different medium. He looked at it. COLON SEEKER read across in moribund see-through plastic whose bending capabilities were gradually allowing the elements to wear it down. It didn’t read Hari Seldon because he couldn’t read the future, obviously. Only Aisle CL-CZ was his domain, his tranquil abode held under Pax Read-on-a chair that now didn’t look as inviting as it had the previous, what, fifty times? He wrestled with his nostalgia, tried to pierce its impenetrable hide, had to strangle it with his bare hands — he gesticulated to no one in particular.

          These books don’t belong here. This one thought held him together. He hadn’t read all of them yet, but of the many worlds he’d visited, the fae and sylvan, the war-torn and stormswept, the lovely and sweet, they remained in his mind for the truest bonds between wayfarer and world could not depart; even if he wasn’t a Prince of Amber, the one true world was always accessible! What purpose, then, did this artificial allocation of such fantastic imagination have for the travelers? A welcome place for the weary? Colon shook his head. That sentence would’ve ended him; he had a life to live and it would not be cloistered in this place that couldn’t hold a candle to Alexandria.

          It was semantics.

          Even if the whole library were to burn down, he still held the true key; once read and encountered in the flesh, the locked Restricted Section or deeper niches of the Archives or even the Citadel with its bumbling acolytes was eternally open to him. Even if he were to take down the lamp and smite it upon the rug, causing a fire (make a wish!), he could at any point wade into the waters, call for his hippocampus, and take that journey alone. Others could join him, of course, as they sought the monsters together.

          The flames devoured the fabric; they’d been waiting for millennia. Bradbury would’ve loved this. “I’m not like you, pre-awakening Montag,” Colon said, zipping his backpack shut as he strode swiftly to the TARDIS at the far end of the row. Smoke filled his head. “I’m the Shepherd of Worlds.” He took a right through the valley of the encroaching shadows and entered the men’s bathroom. Filled his backpack from the tap (he had made sure to line it with golden wrap). Felt exhilarated. Returned to the burning aisle. Made sure that CL-CZ was gone. Waved off the admirers gathered around with their non-Hesperides Apples. “I’m transferring these copies to their rightful place,” he chanted, “rightful place.” Splashed the blood of Poseidon onto the two shelves. Doused himself some, walked back in to screams, took one at random, confirmed that the text was unreadable. Lorren’s face a bit Munch. I’m a cowboy, he hummed to himself. You gotta carry those memories. He emptied the rest of his backpack onto the carpet that couldn’t fly for a true diamond in the rough. He left the place. Yes.

          He rode the cries of the hoi polloi through the marketplace. They’d find out there’s so much more to reading… 

          Now wearing the memories of plotted worlds, Colon would take up arms against a sea of troubled realities and, by remembering, forget them.

WORKS REFERENCED, in the order that they appear