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Volume 16, Issue 2: Similitudes

New York

Douglas Wilson

"Is there a place called Greenland in my world?" Andrew suddenly asked.

"There is," Aelfric said.
"Why are two different places, in two different worlds, named the same thing? That seems odd."
"You should recall," the hermit said, "that this is not a separate world. It is an eddy of your world. It is a long and complicated story, and it involved many adventures (and even more stories), but the people who arrived here many centuries ago thought that they were going to the Greenland of your world."
"I see," said Andrew, not seeing at all.
"All the people here are sons and daughters of Adam, just like you. The great house that Almighty Lord has built is a house that has many odd little places in it. This is just one of His nooks. And some of the places here are named after places that all these people came from."
"It still seems strange to me," Andrew said.
"Not at all. You may not know it, but you come from a place called America in your world. And many places in your nation are named after places in England, where many of your people are from originally. It is the same thing."
Andrew shook his head slowly, still getting adjusted to the idea, when Aelfric took out an old parchment map. "You may take this with you, but I first want to show you the way you should go. Here, at the farthest point west, you should see the place marked where the ruined castle is on the shore of the sea. We are here, on the west side of these hills. About two days travel to the west, you will come to a market town called New York—here."
"New York?" Andrew said.
"Yes, New York" Aelfric said.
"You have a place called New York?"
"Yes. Named after York."
"That's just not right," Andrew said.
Aelfric laughed. "Perhaps you should take it up with them when you get there. And here is one other thing that is very important for you to remember. Here, on the other side of New . . . the market town, about five miles to the north of the road, is a place marked Helwaru."
Andrew did not know why, but when Aelfric said that name, he suddenly felt very cold. He looked up at the sky to see if a cloud had blocked the sun, but it had not. "Why don't I like that name?" he asked.
"It is good that you do not. Under no account are you to leave the road and go in this direction. No legitimate reason can arise that would require it. You must not."
"No fear," said Andrew. "I don't even like looking at it on a map."
"You may not understand this," Aelfric said, "but something may seem grotesque to you here at my table, but there on the road, it may be a different story. You may feel like obeying now, but you must obey whether you feel like it or not."
Andrew nodded soberly. Beow nuzzled Andrew on the shoulder and looked at Aelfric. "Should you tell him what it is?"
"I think so. Helwaru is a mouth down to hell. I went there once and stood at the lip, many years ago, because it was required of me by my superior. It is a wretched and forsaken place."
Andrew just stared at him entranced and appalled. Aelfric went on, "Helwaru is a vast sinkhole, several leagues across. Dank and foul water is at the bottom, and all sorts of lake filth live in it. Rock and slime together surround the water, and the slope up out of the sinkhole is covered with gnarled trees that have not had leaves on them for many years. Snakes are crawling everywhere.The place is unnaturally cold, all through the year, and a hard rime frost is on everything. Instead of leaves, the trees have small black wisps hanging from them, and these are constantly falling into the water."
"What are they?" Andrew asked.
"I have heard that they are the souls of the damned. I do not know if that is true, but the place suits it. When the wisps hit the water, they disappear. Sometimes you think you can hear wailing."
"Why were you there?"
Aelfric bowed his head low over the table. "One of the lake creatures was not limited to the water and had taken to walking the moors at night. He raided several villages, and I was instructed by my superior to take a special arrow that he had fashioned, go to the rim of Helwaru, and shoot that creature under a crescent moon. That I did, and though I wish I could not, I can still remember its howling."
"Does anyone ever just stumble on this place?"
"No—they must be sent or enticed. Anyone who is walking across the fields, knowing nothing of the place, is filled with horror and will go no further. If you are hunting a deer that runs that way, the deer will turn and allow itself to be killed rather than go further. And those who are enticed are almost always people—like you—who have been instructed to stay on the road. When the Kale enticed Beow with the woman, you did well to follow him. But here, even if something like that were to happen, you must not. You must stay on the road."

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