Note from the Author/Translator
Posted by Amos M. Carpenter
My unseeing gaze traverses from my editor’s email on the computer screen to the weary old chest standing on the floor next to my desk, pretending innocence. Logic, once my dear and trusted friend, shies back in revulsion from what my mind knows to be true. I spit the bite of mouldy pizza crust that my hand must have picked up on its own accord into the paper bin. The remainder of the slice follows close behind.
Again, I squint at the email, this time noticing the date in the header with a feeling of disbelief. It certainly does not seem like three weeks since I stubbed my toe on the chest in front of my apartment door on my way out. It doesn’t seem that long since I picked up the topmost book from the first of three dusty piles inside, not realising that the first of them, chronologically speaking, was on the bottom. Assuming that it was my editor’s misguided attempt at realism, or humour, I opened the book. Vaguely, I remember picking up the phone to call her, to complain that she could at least have the author type up his manuscript, and that she has worked with me long enough to know the languages I can and cannot translate. Yet even while the phone was ringing, I took a second glance at the cramped handwriting, and what had seemed an unreadable mess of characters in a foreign alphabet only a moment ago dissolved, and became… what I now know as “Common”. I recall flicking back to the first page of the loosely bound volume, and the strange-looking symbols now making sense. It was my name: Kentos. No, well, not my name exactly, but the name of the Quemin I became for the time it took me to translate all three stacks, whose joy and despair, whose triumphs and tragedies I have lived, whose tropical island home – and entire world – seem far more real than the rain now splattering against my dirty window.
I wonder whether these memories that engulfed me so completely will fade like a dream. At least I typed the translation even as I read each volume; the huge document on my hard drive is proof of that. I open it, look up the word count, and frown at my fingers: they should be bloody stumps from typing so furiously in just three weeks. Did I sleep at all? Or, come to think of it, dare I sleep now, lest I wake to find no document, no manuscripts, and no chest, other than in my mind? Will I still be thinking in base eight and say “shelf” and “eighting” instead of thinking in base ten and saying “sixteen” and “sixty-four”? Will I continue to divide my days and nights into eight hands each after a good night’s sleep?
To distract myself from these useless questions, I re-read the email.
I don’t know what to say. I’m blown away. It’s enough for a trilogy. But before we go anywhere with this, I have to know… is it a translation (if so, from what, and from whom?!?) or is it your own? God, I need to get some sleep.
It’s unsigned. Very unlike her, not to be formal, even in emails. I can’t believe she didn’t mention the fact that I sent the document off without any editing, not even bothering to run a spell checker. But what’s more, if she didn’t have the chest deposited outside my door, then… who did?
Rusty hinges squeak in protest as I once again open the plain chest’s rectangular lid. Perhaps another look at some of the pages between the reddish ox-hide covers, with “Academy” stamped on them, in Common of course, can give me a clue as to their origin. As I did three weeks ago, I pick up the topmost volume – are there more now than there were when I closed the lid after finishing the translation? – and let it fall open at random.
I whimper in helpless dismay as I realise that I am again looking at symbols I don’t know at all. But… I still know Common, and even Quemin. This large, bold and aggressive hand bears no resemblance to Kentos’ tiny, meticulous writing style. Have I missed one of the books? I turn back to the first page, and my heart simply refuses to continue beating.
“I know you!” I whisper hoarsely when at last it jump-starts again. “I almost killed you.” My hands are shaking so hard that I almost drop the book. Suddenly, I know. I understand. With great care, I place the book on the floor, then the next on top of it, continuing until I am holding the last book of the first pile in my hands. I open it, and, somehow, a new document is already open on my screen. I prepare to again immerse myself in that other reality, to become someone else once more, knowing that what little of me I leave behind in this reality will take care of me, from bodily functions to keeping up with translating the experiences flooding my mind.
Then again, I am clearly no expert on what is real and what is not.