stared up at the stars every night. He did not know what they were or why they
shone whenever the sun’s light went out. It was one of those unanswerable
questions like: where does the snow go during the summer? Although ignorant,
Yosef loved that he could see the shimmering dots with such clarity in
Carmarthen’s dark sky.
boy! Get yourself in here this moment!”
Yosef picked himself off the ground and brushed off the nubs of grass his
clothing had gathered onto itself. Making Master wait never ended well. A good
ear boxing seemed the man’s favored method of discipline, but he had a way of inventing
new tortures that baffled the mind and battered the body. Especially when he
Yosef bowed at the waist as per expectations. A lock of his curly black hair tickled
stood from his dining table, swiping a stained napkin from under his chin. The man’s
ratty, tangled gray beard reached down to his chest. His belly could have been
a kettle drum if it were not so gelatinous. Despite Master’s flabby exterior,
he possessed a strength Yosef’s face knew all too well.
out there again, weren’t you?”
“Should I have been—”
interrupt, pup.” Master lifted his arm as if to backhand the boy. He sneered
when he saw Yosef shuddering. “It is your duty to see to my needs. Do I need to
find a hair in my venison?”
his head, Yosef wished his hair were not so long. “No. Of course not. I’m sorry
master. Please. It won’t happen again.”
certainly will not.” Master lifted his flagon, peered inside, and slammed it
back on the table. “Though it seems you cannot do a single thing right, can
you? Why do you allow my thirst to go unquenched? Pour, boy!”
wished he were not such a poor boy. Or, rather, he wished his family had not
been thus. If they could have afforded to feed themselves and him, Master would
not be his master. He could have apprenticed with a far kinder man. Perhaps the
town scribe or tanner. They had always been the reputable sort. But when Master
had appeared on his parent’s doorstep with a money sack that rattled some, they
had been all too eager to part ways with Yosef.
poured amber ale into Master’s flagon, dripping a miniscule amount on the
table. Master snatched his drink and imbibed until echoes of his slurping announced
the mug’s emptiness. Yosef repeated the process, hoping his efforts to keep
Master happy would not fuel an unprovoked raging.
get the book off the stand.” Master pointed with a finger that knew the general
direction with the weary certainty of drunkenness.
was no point in asking which book Master meant. The man knew how to read, but
he placed value in only one book. Leather-bound and heavy as a watermelon, the
tome looked as if it could have held the entirety of humanity’s wisdom. Yosef wished
those were the contents as wisdom might have improved Master’s disposition. But
no. If there was one thing Master repelled, it was wisdom.
Yosef had succeeded at lugging Master’s book onto the table, he stood back a
few paces out of Master’s reach. He watched the man leaf through pages with
reckless, graceless hands that grabbed the corners as if he wished to tear
through the linen paper. When he found the right page, Master’s grubby finger trailed
beneath the words as his eyes squinted. Halfway through reading, Master fell
into the book and began snoring. He sounded like a wolf growling at treed prey.
shook his head and pinched his nose. He grabbed the flagon away so that no
traces of ale could stain Master’s precious book. Master would blame him for
anything awry whether it made sense or not, and a splotch on the page would infuriate
the man more than an empty tankard. Wondering whether he should also take the book
back to its proper place, Yosef glanced down at the less obstructed page. The
letters were nothing but a scribbled mess to him.
lifted Master’s arm out of the way. The man’s hot breaths stank of stale
alcohol and rotting cheese. Yosef scooted the book away before Master could
roll back on top of it. To his surprise, the squiggles on this page made sense.
your suffering in a snap.
words while Master takes his nap.
world to become the hero.
he realized that he had spoken the words aloud, a bright, blue disc of light
engulfed Yosef. Only the light’s sudden disappearance rivaled its arrival. As
soon as Yosef stepped out of the ethereal light, he found himself with enormous
structures surrounding him. He could not tell where the sky began and the
the late hour the full moon evinced, he could not see the stars. He feared they
may have fallen out of the sky or ceased displaying their magnificence. Just as
Yosef raised a finger to scratch his head and ponder the question, a blaring
horn sounded in his ear.
buddy! Get your ass out of the road!” The screaming woman sat inside a metallic
box on wheels. The box put out a dense fog that choked Yosef.
did not spot a donkey anywhere and wondered how he could help this perturbed
woman. If she were seeing animals that did not exist, perhaps a leeching would
be beneficial. On the other hand, perhaps he had been looking in the wrong
direction. Stray donkeys in the road often caused delays for the regency as
they journeyed from city to city.
Yosef scampered to find the offending beast of burden, the metallic box spun
its wheels and screeched as it sped away. “Moron!”
on what? Clearly, she was disturbed in the head. Yosef noticed the incomprehensible
woman’s metal box was not the only one sending up noxious fumes. It seemed the
whole world had altered for the sole purpose of accommodating these mechanical
monsters. They varied in size and color, but they all lacked a trait that might
have given Yosef a better impression of this new world order. These boxes
quarantined the user from life, and the people within appeared satisfied with
his clothes! Dude! The Renaissance Fair moved on months ago.”
not know what a Renaissance was, but he did not believe in taking clothing advise
from a man twice his age who dressed in flashy, immodest rags. You can see
more than half his legs.
hour of aimless walking through this choking, smoggy city, Yosef’s stomach
began to rumble. He reached into his coin purse and smiled when he felt a few
florins. He stopped outside a window and peered in to see people eating two
meals’ worth in one sitting. Yosef entered through the door, jumping as a
beeping tone startled him.
to Burger Bum. We’ll be with you in a moment!” Yosef could not see who spoke,
but the voice sounded annoyed, contrary to what he expected from a gracious
dining establishment smelled of boiling oil and salt. So much salt. Yosef
wondered if he were close to the ocean. If not, then the owner of the
business must be wealthy to import so many spices. I hope they won’t turn away a
stepped up to the counter. “Hello. Would you happen to have a kidney bean pie and
some oats? I assure you I can pay for it.”
girl standing behind the cashbox gave him a stare most would have reserved for a
madman. Considering how many gold rings pierced her eyebrow, Yosef thought she
would have been accustomed to anything peculiar. “Uh, this is a Burger Bum.
Don’t you want a burger?”
Yosef, the word sounded like an odd name for someone living in a village. He
leaned forward on the counter and whispered, “Wouldn’t that be cannibalism?”
you’re a cow.”
the girl, Yosef counted out his florins. There was no way he could afford to
buy a cow with such meager funds. “What could I get with these?”
narrowed her eyes at the gold coins as if unfamiliar with their worth. “Uh,
sir? Are you from another country or something?”
certainly feels that way. Nothing around here is familiar.”
town, huh?” The girl whipped her head about as if making sure no one was
watching. “I’ll tell you what. Dinner’s on me just this once.”
you?” Yosef could not see any food on her body anywhere.
Keep your coins. Maybe you can trade them for real money at a pawn shop.” The
girl’s fingers danced on a screen attached to the cashbox. “I’m not really
supposed to do this, so don’t tell anyone.”
of what had just transpired, Yosef waited at the counter until the girl handed
him a gleaming yellow tray with curious-looking food. She called the round lump
wrapped in paper a “double cheeseburger” and named the tall, crispy things
“fries.” He smiled and thanked the girl for her generous gift before taking the
tray to a table where two other people ate similar items.
We’re eating here!” The man shoved at Yosef.
saw that. I thought perhaps you would want company.”
a table for you over there. Leave my girl and I alone!”
turned in the direction of the abrasive man’s pointing finger. “But it’s
again, these people’s phrases left Yosef’s mind circling as he attempted to
comprehend their meaning. Why would the man demand privacy in a place where
so many shared the space? How could he speak about urine in front of a girl he
intended to court? And what was the urine off of?
lonely table, Yosef unwrapped his double cheeseburger. A red substance leaked
out from beneath the squishy bread and splattered his rough-spun tunic. Uncertain
of what to expect, he lifted the food to his mouth and took a tiny bite. In all
his years, Yosef had never tasted beef before, and now he wanted to have
nothing else ever again. The meat’s juices ran down his throat. The chef had
managed to combine so many unfamiliar tastes into such a small masterpiece, and
Yosef could not wait for an encore.
finished the cheeseburger, Yosef watched the girl with the eyebrow rings walking
over to his table. “How was everything?”
wiped his mouth on his sleeve. “These were the best victuals ever to touch my
lips. My life will never be the same again.”
giggled. “It’s only a burger. We serve millions of them every day. Quadrillions
if you include international chains.”
What are those? “Would you sit with me a moment? I don’t usually eat
shrugged before taking a seat opposite Yosef. “Why not? I can take my break
now. So what’s your deal?”
don’t sell anything.”
ring-bedecked eyebrow raised half an inch. “You wear unusual clothing, try to
buy food with money unlike any I’ve ever seen, and until recently had no idea what
a burger is. What’s your story? Who are you?”
a question he could answer. “My name is Yosef of Carmarthen. Though I’m
originally from a village two miles away from Carmarthen, but you probably
haven’t heard of it.”
meet you, Yosef. Mine is Charise. I’m not sure I’ve heard of Carmarthen.”
“It is a
beautiful place. Everything is lovely there except—”
munched on a fry. “Except what?”
always look up at the stars at night there. And they’re so magnificent to gaze
upon. I just wish Master understood my need to study their brilliance.”
Master?” She brushed grains of salt off her hands with a napkin. “Are you a
Yosef chuckled at the notion. “No. I work for Master. He’s training me to take
over for him when I’m old enough. My parents sold me into the apprenticeship
when I was a small lad.”
parents what?” Her breaths sounded heavy. “Yosef, this can’t be right.”
wish they had sold me to someone else, but Master offered enough for them to
eat for a month. And I’ll have a reasonable skillset once I’ve learned
everything I need to. If Master doesn’t beat me to death first.”
word Yosef uttered seemed to pain Charise, as if his tongue had the power to
cut wounds into her soul. Perhaps my view of the world makes as much sense
to her as hers does to me. Then a topic sprung to mind that could do no
damage. “Charise, do you ever wonder what stars are made of?”
took the last fry and ripped it in half. “Can’t say that I have. If I ever want
to know something like that, I just search it on the Internet.”
face twisted. It sounded like she wanted to go fishing, but that idea did not
fit in with the conversation.
know what the Internet is, right?” The girl took out a rectangular box and
pressed a button on the side. The screen illuminated with a picture. With
several swiping motions, she changed the image so that Yosef could see a
photograph of a star. “It says here that stars are made of very hot gases.
Hydrogen. Helium. Others too.”
this magic box holds all the answers to life’s questions?”
smirked. “Not yet. But you can find almost every piece of information you want
to know. Why?”
you look up Master on that thing? I want to know if he’s going to punish me for
reading his spell book.”
sure. What’s his name?”