The Misplaced Voyage
Copyright © 2013 by Brian Bixby.
I’d had dinner with two of my graduate students and decided to take them back to my place for drinks and talk. It wasn’t until I opened the door that I realized there was someone in my flat. I’d been feeling a bit odd during dinner, and now I realized why. It had to be Maggie in my flat. She must have used that magical teleportation machine of hers to come across from America while I was eating dinner. No doubt she was sitting in my living room, drinking some Islay single malt out of a tumbler.
I turned to my students as soon as I shut the door behind us. “Rob, Eva, I didn’t mention this before, but I’ve got another visitor who’ll be joining us, an American magician named Maggie. She’s fine to talk to, but don’t play any magical tricks on her or do anything she might misconstrue as a threat. Don’t even try to touch her unless she initiates the contact.”
Rob, who could never resist a joke, said, “Sounds like maybe she’s an ex-girlfriend, Geoff?”
Insolent whelp. “As a matter of fact, very ex, Rob. You’re welcome to try to chat her up. It will amuse her.” I noticed Eva looked relieved and grinned. She’s been thinking about trying to seduce me, but can’t face the thought I might reject her. Which I wouldn’t, sexual relationships between master and apprentice magicians being fairly common, though they almost never outlast the training period. Too uncomfortable thereafter.
We walked into the living room. It was a cold, wet night, and Maggie had started a small fire. She was just finishing laying out glasses for the rest of us as we walked in. She came over, gave me a hug, shook hands with the students, and sat down in a chair by herself, with a filled glass to hand. My students sat down on a sofa, and I got them drinks before sitting down myself.
I wonder what they made of Maggie at the time. She sat there, with her glasses perched on her long, thin nose, eyes narrowed to slits, getting up every so often to top off her glass, and scarcely saying a word. Rob and Eva were a little uncomfortable at first, but soon warmed up, and the three of us had a nice conversation about magical theory. Yet I noticed Eva kept glancing at Maggie as if there was something about Maggie that bothered her.
I found her conduct disturbing, myself. Maggie wasn’t a sociable creature, but would usually make an effort to be so when in company with me. And she normally was holding in a lot of anger, but tonight it was as if she was burnt out. The best I could figure was that she had got into some sort of scrape, and wanted to wait until my other guests were gone before unburdening herself to me. And even though that was what she was here for, I’d have to work at it to get her to talk when the time came.
I decided to steer the conversation over to her in a roundabout way. I’d spent the summer in Lapland tracking down a Sami wizard, and had only just got back to Edinburgh a few days before the beginning of the semester. So I recounted a few stories about my adventures there, pitching it more toward Eva and Rob than Maggie. Then when I was finished, I turned to Maggie and said, “Speaking of meeting magicians in far places, whatever happened to that witch you knew in New Zealand, Maggie?”
Maggie looked into her snifter as if her thoughts had taken up residence in the Scotch. “You mean Charlotte?”
“That’s right, Maggie. Charlotte. The one who claimed she was Moriori.” I let out a faint snort of derision. The number of people who claimed Moriori descent was improbably high considering what had happened to them.
Rob interjected, “I’ve been to New Zealand. I thought the natives there were called Maoris.”
I gave him a smile. “Two points for pronouncing it correctly, Rob, but they’re not who we’re talking about. The Moriori were the native inhabitants of the Chatham Islands, east of New Zealand. The Maoris killed off most of them in the 1840s.”
Maggie, still staring into her snifter, muttered, “Spoken like a true British imperialist, Geoff. You forget to mention the British helped the Maori massacre the Moriori.”
I decided to treat her comment as a joke. “Ah, Maggie, you Americans never let us forget our sins. But we Scots hadn’t yet taken over the Empire from the English in those days.”
Maggie shrugged. “In any case, Geoff, she really was Moriori. I saw the proof.”
“Now, Maggie, what sort of proof could she offer? Sounds like there’s a story there.”
Maggie leaned back in her chair, closed her eyes altogether, and sighed. “Oh, there’s a story there, all right. We went to Hawaiki.”
Eva decided to chime in. “Where’s Hawaiki?”
Maggie sat up, opened her eyes, gave Eva a searching look. “It’s not really so much where Hawaiki is, it’s what Hawaiki is. Depending on which version of the myths you read, it’s either the Maori homeland or their land of the dead.”
News to me. So I said, “I could see how those two myths could overlap, Maggie. But in reality the Polynesians probably came from East Asia, possibly Taiwan. And call me a fool, but I doubt you’re describing a junket to Taipei.”
Maggie turned her gaze on me. It was a very cold look. Something bad must have happened to her for her to be like this. Yet her voice was, if not warm, at least not hostile when she replied, “Hawaiki isn’t on this plane of reality, Geoff. You need the Hawaiki compass to get there.”
She got up, walked over to the fire, took a big gulp of whisky, and stared down into the fire. Eva was about to say something, but I motioned her to be silent. Maggie was talking. I wanted her to keep talking.
After another minute, she turned, sat down, and started talking. As she talked, she warmed to her subject, and accompanied her words with gestures. As her head shifted, sometimes we’d see her eyes, now open wide, other times the reflection of the fire on her lenses.
“I’d stolen the Hawaiki compass from Hawaii several years before. I knew it was supposed to guide one to Hawaiki, but I had no interest in using it that way. Like other magical artifacts, it was a source of power for me, and that was the only way I ever intended to use it.
“Well, I got into a spot of trouble down in New Zealand with a flock of demon-possessed sheep. It might seem a laughing matter, but in a country where there are 20 sheep for each and every person, you don’t want demons possessing them. The sheep were owned by a cousin of Charlotte’s, which is why she was nearby when it happened, and helped me out of a jam. Why she hadn’t been called in long before to deal with the sheep I never found out. Anyhow, it wasn’t the first time our paths had crossed, so you might say it was a friend helping out a friend.
“So I owed her. We ended up at her place, drinking the local wine. Charlotte explained some of the Polynesian magical practices she used, and I explained a bit about my scientific approach to magic. Charlotte was markedly unimpressed. She called me just another ignorant pakeha, a non-native, and said it was no wonder I’d gotten into trouble with sheep. I didn’t think that was fair, and being a few sheets to the wind by that time, I told her that my magic could overpower her magic, and mentioned that I tapped into the Hawaiki compass for its power.”
Maggie talking about her scientific magic in front of my students was unlike her. I thought I’d hint to her what she was doing. “You, Maggie, a few sheets to the wind? On Enzedd wine? Oh, what a lightweight!”
A malicious grin slipped across Maggie’s face. “I remember an occasion involving a certain Scotsman and a ‘wee bit’ of bourbon that didn’t end up well.”
I laughed and replied, “I’m glad you remember it, Maggie, because I was in no condition to.”
Maggie gave me a slow shake of her head, then picked up her story. Whether or not she understood my hint, I didn’t know, but I noticed she made no further reference to her theories.
“Well, Charlotte was all over me after that, explaining her Moriori heritage, and how the Moriori were the only true descendents of the original Polynesian voyagers, and how the Maori had done them wrong and the British had done them wrong, and how they were forgotten, and all that stuff. I’d heard some of this before, but not at such great length or with such passion. And it all came down to was that she felt that as a Moriori she was entitled to ‘return to her homeland,’ by which she meant Hawaiki, not the Chatham Islands, and that I should give her the compass so she could sail there.
“Well, I wasn’t simply going to give her the compass. That I was determined on. And I had no interest in visiting the probably mythical Hawaiki, particularly if it was the land of the dead. But the more she talked on the subject, and the more wine I drank, the more interesting the idea became. And I did owe her — that could not be gainsaid. So I eventually agreed to get the compass, and to sail with her to Hawaiki.
“I woke up the next morning with a hangover and a sinking feeling that I had got myself into something I shouldn’t. But I’d said I’d do it, and Charlotte made it quite clear when we met over brunch that she was going to hold me to that commitment. So we made plans. Charlotte was to provide the boat and provisions, I was to provide the compass, and we’d travel to Hawaiki.
“Took me a few days to settle my affairs and pick up the compass. Which was fine with Charlotte. She needed the time to pull the practical side of the expedition together.
“Anyhow, we met in Auckland. Charlotte had an ocean-going yacht in the Waitemata Harbour. We got on board and set sail that day.
“Following a compass that is supposed to take you to a mythical place turned out to be more complicated and simpler than I expected. The damn thing didn’t work at all as long as we were in sight of land. But once we were completely at sea, it suddenly swung to, and we set our course accordingly.
“The first day, everything seemed normal. We took proper care of the boat, ate our meals by the sun, read, talked, exercised, drank, whatever. Normal stuff. The second day was hazy and warm. We didn’t feel like doing much of anything, but we knew we had to keep up the boat. It was hard to do anything, as if we weren’t really all there. On the third day, we stopped doing things. Literally. We got up, went out to the bow, and then just sat down to watch the yacht track the compass. It got warm, so we took off our clothes. The sunlight didn’t seem to change, and we had no way to reckon time with us there in the bow. And we didn’t care, or even think.
“How long we were like that, I don’t know. I could say one day, because the sun never set. But we never saw it, either. It was just a hazy blue sky, the ship, and the waves.
“Finally the sun came out directly overhead. And directly in front of us was a beach. We didn’t worry about a reef or anything, we just ran the boat onto the beach and got off.
“We were in Hawaiki. We didn’t need to be told that. We knew. We were already part of it. Somehow in that endless day of travel we’d ceased to be us, and had just become part of Hawaiki. I mean, we were still us, physically, but we were part of some collective mind of all the inhabitants of Hawaiki as well. You don’t retain any real individuality in a situation like that. And you don’t even want to.”
Maggie’s face lit up as she threw her hands wide. “Hawaiki was paradise. You knew everyone there, you were part of everyone there, we all lived in harmony. We all ate and drank and copulated and played and slept as we willed. There was no work, no pain. If you wanted rain, it rained. If you wanted night, it was night, at least for the part of us that was your individual body. It was what Europeans imagined life was like in the South Pacific, only perfect.”
There was a long silence. Maggie was staring at Eva, as if it were up to Eva to make the next move. Sometimes, even without actual magic, there’s magic in a look. Eva was staring back at Maggie as if Maggie were some sort of gorgeous cobra that was entrancing her. She was fascinated and terrified by Maggie at the same time, and had no idea why. It was all she could do to ask in a barely audible voice, “What happened?”
Maggie slowly shook her head. “I don’t know. There was something wrong. I started to wander off by myself. There wasn’t anything wrong in that, per se. We the collective sometimes did that with individuals. And yet, more and more, it seemed to be me. I would go off and I would make it night and I would talk to myself. No one talked in Hawaiki. We sang, wonderful gloriously happy songs, but no one talked. No one had to, we all understood each other perfectly. But I had to talk. I came back from my time apart, and started talking to people. And I started saying things I was thinking, I, me, alone, not what I, we were thinking. It was as if I was part of them, and I wasn’t, at the same time. And I began to feel depressed.
“It was a terrible strain on me. And one day I just lay down on the beach and made it night and went to sleep. And when I woke up, the yacht was there.
“They told me in my mind that I must go on the yacht and sail away, leave Hawaiki. And I didn’t want to go. It would mean severing myself from what I had become. But I couldn’t fight them. Fighting them made me individual, separated me from them, made it easier for me to want to defy them and yet at the same time demonstrated that I was already ceasing to be part of them. I got on board the yacht, a wave picked it off the beach, and I set it on course away from Hawaiki. And cried the whole time.
“After a while, I woke up without remembering I had fallen asleep. The sky was normal. I was normal. There was land directly ahead.” Maggie gave a chuckle. “It was Whitefish Bay, Lake Superior, hundreds of miles from the ocean. There was no record of the vessel ever passing up the St. Lawrence Seaway. Four days had elapsed in this world since we had set out from Auckland. Charlotte was gone. She had stayed behind in Hawaiki. Paradise was good enough for her, or maybe she was good enough for it. I don’t know.”
Maggie’s expression had turned sullen, and she stared down into her glass. Rob stirred uneasily, looking at the rest of us, particularly Eva. Eva was staring at Maggie with a frightening intensity. As before, she had to struggle to get the words out. “What happened to the compass? Where is it now?”
I started to say something, but Maggie cut me off. “It’s all right, Geoff. I’ll answer that.” She pulled out her cell phone, punched in some numbers, held out her hand. And just above it, an object materialized and dropped into her hand. She held it out to Eva. “Here it is. Take it.”
It was a silvery metal object, shaped like a bird, done in what was definitely an archaic Maori style. And Maggie should never have produced it. It radiated magic, serious magic. As I watched, the magic changed, became patterned much like the object, and reached out to Eva. It sunk its claws into Eva’s magical field, and began drawing it in.
I had to stop this. “Maggie, put it away. Put it away now!”
Maggie snatched it away, putting it in her jacket pocket. And Eva rose up with a cry and ran out of the room. A few seconds later I heard the outside door open and close. I looked over to Rob. “Go after her,” I said. He promptly got up and left the room, and I heard him take both their coats before he went out the door. Rob was always careful and dependable that way.
I stood up, turned on Maggie with real anger in my voice. “Whatever possessed you to do that, Maggie? The girl’s a child, an apprentice magician, and you expose her to something like that?”
Maggie looked up at me, with tears in her eyes. “She knows what she wants, Geoff. She’s not a child anymore. She wants you. She wants Paradise. And Paradise will take her.” To my utter amazement, Maggie broke down crying. “Paradise will take her, Geoff, but it wouldn’t take me. Why wouldn’t it take me, Geoff? Why?”
I stepped over and she stood up and I took her in my arms. She sobbed and wailed, dreadful cries in her unhappiness. And I just made comforting noises. Because I couldn’t tell her the truth. I couldn’t tell her that she was never satisfied, that she didn’t know what would make her happy, that she was so marked by fear that she would never let herself be happy. She’d left me, because she was afraid she was happy with me, and has always kept a distance between us since.
And then I thought to myself, would I go to Hawaiki? Did I want happiness? I was a scholar of magic, a magician, an educator, a researcher, a man with friends and lovers, including the brilliant but sad and twisted woman I was holding. And I couldn’t go to Hawaiki. My place was in an imperfect world, changing it.
I looked down at Maggie, still sobbing, her face wet with tears and a runny nose. And I thought to myself, “In a moment, Maggie, I’m going to whisper to you that I don’t want to go to Hawaiki, either. And you’re not going to believe me, at least not at first. But I thank you for making me realize that.”
End of “The Misplaced Voyage”