The Land of the Star Palace

You remember a blood-red desert, a black sky dotted with stars, three full moons glowing above, and a silver palace nestled among the crimson dunes. The palace was a like a blossoming metallic flower with towers curving from its bell. In the tallest tower lived you and your wife, royal couple of a quiet kingdom.  You remember your reflection in a full-length mirror: a tall, thin young man with dark brown skin, black hair and beautiful dark eyes staring from a delicately framed face, a crown of silver laurels on your brow. Your wife you recall as equally tall and dark and beautiful. Prince and Princess of this dream kingdom, you both were draped in shimmering silver robes. Few people visited you in your chambers, other than servants bringing trays of food and drink, and your Minister of State who would come to you with questions of statecraft.

          Then, silence. Darkness.

          Only your wife’s mind could reach you through this infinite black silence. The two of you drifted together in this void. Eventually, after an immeasurable time, you feel heat and with it cold. You feel vibration. Soon you can focus with your minds till the heat takes on shapes and the vibration sound. With more time you can focus the heat and cold into light and darkness, first as blurry images, and then as the sight of one color blind.  At last, color emerges.

          You and your princess look about you. There are many others here, but they are still and lifeless. You look at your wife. She has the grinning face of a boy, carved of rosewood and with big blue painted eyes and a carved swirl of yellow painted hair. She (now he) wears a dark blue top and white slacks and black shoes. On the princess’s hands are white cotton gloves.

          Looking at you, your princess explains that you are a girl with a rosewood mask of a face, wide green-painted eyes, and long hair (not carved like your companion’s, but hanging darkly down your shoulders like real hair).  You wear a similar outfit.

          Where are we? You ask the princess.

          The princess looks around at the vast plain peopled with seemingly-dead beings with forms like yours. I, I don’t know. But the space we are in is gigantic. Look how high the ceiling is. And your wife was right. A crystal fixture glowed from a blue ceiling many stories above your heads.  Who are our companions?

          You send a greeting from your mind to the nearest figure, a round-faced boy with a wide-opened mouth. No reply. He just sits there and continues staring into the void you’d come from. 

          It is not much later that the two of you discover that you do have a living companion.

          A giant.

          He is a stout elderly man with heavy jowls and graying dark-brown hair combed back from a receding hairline. Horn-rimmed glasses perch on his large nose. He shuffles into the vast room you and your princess live in and talks to the two of you and smiles. Terrified of his immense size, the two of you remain as inanimate as your companions on the white wooden plain you now call home. His words are of some strange language and it is many, many days before you and the princess can figure out what he is saying. He calls himself Uncle Shrevnetz and he always dotes on the two of you and confesses that both of you are his favorite dolls. The word “doll” is at first alien to you, but the meaning eventually became obvious: a toy figurine.

          He calls you Mary Beth Brown and your wife Wilky William. Not recalling your real names, you and your wife agree to adopt these monikers until the two of you can discover your birth names.

          How did we become like this? Asks Wilky William one day when Uncle Shrevnetz is not about.      

          I wish I knew, you reply. But I suppose I should stopping thinking of you as a “she” and you should stop thinking of me as a “he”.

          Sitting cross-legged before you Wilky William clasps gloved hands together and nods.  Agreed. If we should find someone else we can communicate with we wouldn't wish to cause them confusion.

          So from that day on, you are a girl and your princess, Wilky William, is a boy.

          Uncle Shrevnetz apparently runs a store that sells dollhouses which he makes in his spare time. You and Wilky William live with the other dolls in a backroom of the store. But Uncle Shrevnetz is so proud of his doll collection that he sometimes gives tours to both adults and children. Occasionally, and overly-enthusiastic boy or girl will reach out to touch a doll, but Uncle Shrevnetz  grabs their hand and says, “Now, now. These dolls are so pretty because little paws don’t  mess with them,” and that ends that.

          He spends his lunch break sitting with his two favorite dolls and reading to both of you from children’s books. Now and again he will stick himself with a needle. “I’m a diabetic,” he explains. “These syringes contain insulin which keeps me from getting sick.” Sometimes he  returns to his work from his break and leaves a book behind. It is Wilky William who suggests the two of you go over these books and try to learn to read the writing of this world. Over a period of months, the two of you begin to make the connections with the words Uncle Shrevnetz  says, the colorful pictures on the pages, and the simple words in the text. It is a slow process, but you and Wilky William begin to glean a basic written vocabulary as well as an understanding of numbers.

          One day, Uncle Shrevnetz comes in with a special visitor. This guest is an elderly black man with a bald head, bushy gray sideburns, and wire-rimmed spectacles. He is heavy-set and has to heave himself about with a gnarly wooden walking stick. “And these,” says Uncle Shrevetz, “are my pride and joy. This is Mary Beth Brown and this is her boyfriend, Wilky William. Guys, this is Doctor Andre Gregory Rozier.”

          “Please,” says the other man. “I just go by ’Greg’. Oh, but you were right about them being prize specimens, Joe.” Doctor Rozier pears at you and Wilky Willam intently. “The rosewood they are carved from is very rare indeed. There’s only one small wood deep in the forests of Bavaria where this tree grows. Yes, I’ve only seen a few other instances of dolls and puppets made from this.”

          Uncle Shrevnetz smiles. “Like I said, they’re my pride and joy.  No other dolls like this I’ve ever seen.”

          Doctor Rozier looks at Uncle Shrevnetz with a serious expression. “I really would like to add them to my own collection if it’s possible.”

          Uncle Shrevnetz’s smile melts into a frown. “No, Greg, I don’t think I could bear to part with my little friends here.”

          Doctor Rozier reaches a hand into his tweed jacket and pulls out a booklet of long strips of paper. “I’d be willing to pay you a handsome price for these.”

          “Put your checkbook away, Greg. I won’t part with them.” Uncle Shrevnetz takes a deep breath and grins. “But what kind of a host would I be if I didn't’t offer you a cup of my finest tea. If you’ll come with me.”

          “Gladly, but may I look at these dolls just a few minutes more?”

          “Oh, certainly. I’ll heat up the kettle.”

          Uncle Shrevnetz leaves the room and Doctor Rozier stoops down and smiles at you and Wilky. “Can you understand what I’m saying? Don’t be afraid to nod your heads if you can. I’m not telepathic like you, but I can detect your minds. Don’t worry; I won’t hurt you. I’m just an old Louisiana Hoodoo.  You know what that is? I’m a root doctor. I deal with charms and spells. And the spirit realm. I can help you. So I’ll ask again. Can you understand me?”

          Nervously, you and Wilky nod your heads.

          Doctor Rozier’s grin widens. He reaches back into his jacket and pulls out a square piece of cardboard and lays it at your feet. You notice there was print on its surface. “This is my card. It has my name and address and phone number. Oh, can you read? I know some of you haven’t learned our alphabet.”

          You nod again.

          “Good. Here.” He picks up the card and writes something on its empty backside and then replaces it at your feet. “This is someone like you who lives closer to your town then I do. He’s a ventriloquist dummy. He and his human associate live in McNelly Falls, which is about twenty miles north of here. He remembers much of the old world your kind came from. Yes. You two are not originally from this world. In fact, the both of you hail from another universe entirely. Oh, but I shouldn't keep Joe waiting.” He bows to you and Wilky and exits the room. 

         Wilky examins the card. What should we do?