4
Imaginarium

Imaginarium is the land of imagining happy fluffy clouds, rainbow unicorns, and princesses in towers—but it is also the land of imagining yourself a fluffy cloud who eats rainbow unicorns and locks princesses in towers, for lunatics are no more imaginative than sanetics; no, nor any less. Neither chemical imbalance naturally induced nor chemical stupor knowingly indulged either increases or decreases the base imagination quotient of an individual, though such perversions can impact the presentation of that imagination.

What can increase or decrease the imagination quotient is the substance of Imaginarium.

Upon its natal day, back when Time marched around with ash-gray ribbons in her hair, Imaginarium was composed wholly of primordial ooze, petite tufts of weedy islands, thick air, and the Stench.

What a Stench. More suffocating than water, more viscid than ice, more pervading than steam, this was not a stench that stole quietly up to tap you on the shoulder and humbly beg bus fare. This Stench tackled you, pummeled you, and made off with not only your wallet but also the boots from your feet, the fillings from your teeth, the hair from your head, and the breath from your lungs. It left your life intact, however, and repaid you for the mugging by coating your feet and teeth and head and lungs with such inspirations as could make a dragon turn from gold lust to creation must.

Even as the primordial Imaginarium changed its invaders, so the invaders changed Imaginarium a few boots at a time until it became what it was at the Clockmaker's entrance—a place no less perilous than in its youth, but with perils so varied that none could predict them. Indeed, such ubiquitous fickleness of peril rendered warning useless. That was perhaps why no one had bothered to mention to the Clockmaker that a stroll through Imaginarium's garden was no walk in the park; that the breezes weren't a breeze when the Stench was around; that pieces of cake were never easy as pie; and that if you could do it with your eyes shut, it was probably only because opening them would cause blindness, madness, and vertigo—in that order.

The Clockmaker, heart swelling in the glorious awareness of finally fulfilling his father's counsel, extended one clockwork leg and pushed through the threshold and into knee-deep sludge.

The sludge farted as he sank, and the memory of Stench swarmed the Clockmaker's nose, searching for nostrils that did not exist and then, in increasing desperation, experimenting with entering other orifices. But it found only gleaming gears and springs and a pleasant orchestral rendition of tick-tock. Finally, it despaired of him and settled back down to await its next customer.

The Clockmaker observed his sunken limb with displeasure. True, he was waterproof to thirty fathoms—but also true that there was no waterproofing dignity.

Bowing to the inevitable, the Clockmaker squelched, pbbbted, buped, and fwipped through the sucking mud toward the bank. He looked around all the while, in search of a suitable subspecies of Imagination to trap in his iron box and stuff into his gut. Only as he looked did he realize that he did not know what an Idea, Notion, Conviction, Conception, or other species of Imagination looked like, or whether any old piece of Imaginarium would do.

The glomping mud bubbled and muttered for only a short distance in each direction. Had the capricious threshold deposited him only twelve paces to his three o'clock or twenty-six to his eleven o'clock, he would have landed in a field of hydrangeas or in a pit without any bottom but with plenty of noses and mouths and needle teeth spun from sugar. At six o'clock stretched an apparently barren wasteland, and at eight a mountain range of what might have been snow or ice cream or mashed potatoes; the Clockmaker stood too far away to see, and anyway, it might have changed before he arrived. Quite to his disappointment, nothing in view resembled clockwork, metal, or anyone to explain the rules of the place.

The Clockmaker slooped out of the mud and into the field of hydrangeas. He crushed and dirtied a swath ten feet in, and then sat down, plucked a handful of flowers, and began smearing his mucky shins and feet clean. The mud came off readily, but he continued plucking hydrangea pompoms and polishing down to the tiniest detail. He worked with such habitual diligence that he did not realize the curious occurrences in his clockwork brain until he was lost in them.

That caption that The World's Greatest Poet had added to the berry painting . . . the Clockmaker found he approved wholeheartedly of the rhyme and meter. They worked perfectly for a dark and morbid poem. Only . . . only, wouldn't the melancholy menace of its tone have been more appropriately applied to an avian subject? Why this might be the case, he could not say; he was too unused to abstract thinking to effectively dissect it.

The truth was, of course, that the Clockmaker had just had his first Intimation. As far as the Imagination family went, it wasn't much (as a subspecies of the Hint in the genus Hypothesis, Intimations ranked barely above Inklings). Still, we must all begin somewhere, and the Clockmaker took to it like Brussels sprouts to butter. He grabbed another lavender pompom and rubbed it on his skin, massaged it in his hands, crushed it on his head, and generally experimented on the best way to extract the imagination from it.

It didn't take the Clockmaker long to determine that lavender hydrangeas only gave Intimations, whereas pink gave Inklings and blue gave Suspicions. If he'd known more (or, indeed, anything) of horticulture, he might have determined that this was because pink grew in the most basic soil and blue in the most acidic. As it was, he could only experiment, gorging himself on Hints until hardly a flower remained.

The Clockmaker plucked out the central blooms from the last hydrangea of each color and placed them in his iron gut box. Then he moved on. He had inklings and suspicions and intimations that hydrangeas were the least of what Imaginarium had to offer.

The Clockmaker had long ago passed the chasm of sugar-spun teeth, and the mashed-potato mountain had been discovered and eaten while he wasn't looking. Here and there muttered mud pots, but nothing else struck him as familiar, so he kept going in a straight line until he reached a vast boneyard.

At that time, the Clockmaker had not yet learned that people felt uncomfortable and creeped out by the dead. As he had no qualms with taking apart, refurbishing, and replacing his own limbs, he looked upon the boneyard with the cool eyes of a tyro painter gazing upon a collection of natural bristle brushes from 583 different species.

Crushing the flowers had been adequate to release their Hints, but the Clockmaker soon found this technique insufficient for bones, for when he shattered them, their dust flew everywhere and blinded him while their contents escaped. Bones required special technique. After some experimentation, he found that he could crack them gently and peel them like eggshells. The imagination lay within, to be slurped out—only, since the Clockmaker could not slurp, he smeared the marrow over his casing, and thus extrapolated their contents.

Extrapolations, whether Calculations, Estimations, Prognostications, Computations, or Ratiocinations, did nothing to flood the Clockmaker's mind with new information. Instead, they used existing information in combination. He began putting together meaning from disparate elements: the exchange of coins that accompanied the purchases and numbers; the way that the arguments and seeming animosity between The World's Greatest Poet and The World's Even Better Poet did not stop them from spending their evenings in cheerful comradery; the difference between his experiences of friendship and what he had seen of his father's life, which had been solitary before his boy's birth—and what his father's might have become, if he had survived his son's departure.

Days rolled into weeks as the Clockmaker toiled grimly through the boneyard. He remembered every Extrapolation he opened, though they evaporated soon enough. When he reached the end of the boneyard, he stored five types of marrow in his iron box. But though he had begun to learn, he was far from understanding what his Extrapolations meant as he left the razed boneyard behind and entered the linen closet of Empathy.

~0~0~

Behind the Clockmaker, an anomalous alteration overtook the flower field. Whereas before the hydrangeas had grown like perfectly ordinary plants, their colors reflecting nothing more extraordinary than whether people had dropped coffee grounds or woodchips upon their soil, the new flowers grew irregularly. Some appeared almost ordinary, save for an elegant streak of brass or steel or gold along their petals, reflecting dimly in Imaginarium's pervasive twilight. Others grew on rigid steel spines that bent into trellises for their neighbors to twine and climb. Some flowers resembled cogs that meshed with their neighbors and spun in the breeze as Stench rushed by. They did not tell time, but their relation to clockwork was otherwise unavoidable—first cousins at most. Beneath them, roots ticked as they inched and centimetered through the soil, and leaves twitched in sharp, precise flutters.

Most telling, however, if not of time, was the bush at the field's center. Every flower on it grew translucent as diamond and swung on its stem as if on a triple axis. And if a traveler stopped close by and listened very carefully, he would be able to hear the breeze whistling love through the field's heart of crystal, and rejoice with the plant in its life and beauty.

~0~0~

When the Clockmaker had first begun his quest in Imaginarium, it had been out of filial love and duty. The longer he stayed, however, the more he forgot his true purpose in his desperation for more—for the more he learned, the more he realized the depths of his ignorance and limitedness. No sooner had he tasted Perception than he craved Detail. Self-Awareness took him up and tossed him into the cosmetic valley of Despair, where he wallowed in foundation and rouge. Fortunately for him, no land of Despair can protect its borders from Hope, which slides in on the molecules of air and is even more pervasive than the Stench.

Hope led him to Perspective, which, although miserable, at least did not threaten to drown him. The Clockmaker teetered about on its seesaws for ages until they tipped him gently into Creation's bakery.

There, the Clockmaker found himself quite at home, for he perceived that he could extrapolate the designs he had learned from his father and seen in Time's palace and the Antechamber to create his own designs. He marched methodically across the bakery, crumbling pastries to extract their gooey centers and reveling in the distinctions between raspberry and snozzini, sour and sweet, bitter and spicy, paprika-ish and bland. He learned everything a lemon tart could impart and the buttery divisions of a croissant.

With his new understanding, the Clockmaker found himself discontent with the Designs of danishes and the Beauties of butteries and the Intricacies of icing. Why should he recreate these as they were and as others had created them before? So he peeled apart sheets of phyllo and combined them with pie filling, mixed poppy seeds with cranberries and custard, and substituted banana for coconut oil and plantain for banana and coconut chips for plantain and coconut oil for coconut chips—and roasted his concoction in marsh gas.

When the Clockmaker had taken all that Creation's bakery had to offer, he ran into real difficulty, for he found his iron box was full. He kneaded and crushed the ingredients, but he had kneaded and crushed them so often before that he could squeeze out only the last molecules of air and replace them with nothing more than a single poppy seed.

After some contemplation, the Clockmaker told himself, "I do not have to discover a solution now, for here in Imaginarium, my creations will stay as I created them. Only if I leave must they be imprisoned in iron. But how am I ever to leave? And why should I want to leave?"—for he had not yet learned about Adventure.

~0~0~

Inspiration struck the Clockmaker with a brick the moment he stepped into its construction zone. He was fortunate—only a small Idea had hit him—but even so, he remained sprawled for several minutes gingerly feeling his head. The urge to spin auroch hair into toeless socks enveloped him. "What a marvelous idea!" he said—for all Ideas seem marvelous in their initial concussions.

The Clockmaker stood back up and, wary of danger, caught a falling anvil with his arms instead of his head.

"What an even more marvelous idea!" he exclaimed. "Here is plenty of iron with which to build myself a bigger box!" He immediately looked around and found the Forge of Forging Ideas and the Hammer of Hammering Out Ideas and the hot air billows of Excessive Expectations and got to work. Using his experience molding metal and extrapolating creations, the Clockmaker soon made himself a new box, ten times the size of the old one. Naturally, it was far too large to install in his gut, but he could carry it along in his arms without undue difficulty.

"But what if this is not big enough?" he asked himself, looking at it. "It is much larger, but Imaginarium might be too large for it. What if I cannot fit everything I want in here?"

He hunted until he found an iron vein that his surveys indicated stretched down miles and miles into Imaginarium.

"I will make a wheelbarrow," he decided, "and drag it along behind me." But no sooner had he found a brain pick and carved out enough iron for a wheelbarrow than a clockwork carriage occurred to him—or perhaps a train to which he could add endless carriages, that he might never run out of space. Indeed, there seemed no reason he should ever stop expanding.

The Clockmaker worked harder and harder, swinging the pick carelessly and barely getting out of the way of flying Notions. At first, he unearthed mounds of iron, but then it seemed to him that the quality of iron was lessening—and if there was one thing his father had taught him, it was to never use inferior materials. So he worked even harder and more desperately, hunting for the quality iron he had been so sure lay beneath him. Yet the more deeply he delved and the more aggressively he attacked, the less iron he found, until he was digging in plain dirt.

What in Imaginarium could be going on? The Clockmaker straightened and looked around. It had been many weeks since he had last bothered, and he had to check his memory to make sure it wasn't faulty—for instead of Ideas and Notions flying wildly about, only a few wispy boxes floated by. He snatched at one, and found he held nothing but the fool's gold of Writer's Block. Worse yet, all the iron he had dug out had evaporated, save for the iron box he had made out of that first anvil Idea.

The Clockmaker fell upon his face, groaning. Months had passed since he had last thought to polish himself. His oil had gone clumpy; his skin was dinged and dented and scraped; and his ticks echoed hollowly. His friends in the Antechamber would not have known their gleaming, meticulous clockwork man, and the Clockmaker could not bring himself to recognize, let alone ameliorate, the situation.

Little did he realize it then, but the fault of this lay in his own greed. For when he had pushed out the last molecule of air from his gut, he had also pushed out the last molecule of Hope. Since then, the foundation of Despair had oozed through all his crushed Hypotheses and Extrapolations and Self-Awarenesses, suffocating them and turning them to its own purpose.

It was in this attitude—prostrate with despair in the Wasteland of Writer's Block—that Vamazz the Vamazing found him.

VAMAZING: Scholars diverge over the probable etymology of this portmanteau. The majority claim it to be the inevitable combination of "very" and "amazing." However, a small but vocal minority insists it instead derives from "verily amazing"—which is to say, amazing in fact and actuality rather than merely in perception or colloquialism. An even smaller and more vocal minority provides compelling evidence that the term was coined specifically in reference to Vamazz and should therefore be defined as "As amazing as Vamazz," "What Vamazz finds amazing," or, possibly, the verily very specific "Vamazz's amazingness."

The smallest minority of all is of the opinion that Vamazz himself originated the term for the reasonable reason that no sufficient superlative previously existed that began with "V." Since, however, this minority is in Vamazz's employ and knows better than to run his tongue, this final theory will never gain traction. In a few years, it will be lost to the Sands of Time and subsequently used as a litter box.

Warm, cloth-covered arms scooped beneath the Clockmaker, rolling him face-up and supporting him under knees and back. The Clockmaker moaned and covered his eyes with the heels of his palms, too miserable to want to see or feel or acknowledge anything.

"Oof, you're heavy," Vamazz said. "How much do you weigh?"

The Clockmaker did not know and, right then, he did not care. But as Vamazz began to walk, something changed in the Clockmaker's heart. It had been many years since anyone had carried him. In fact, his only memories of it were from when he had been very young, nothing more than heart, brain, and ears—no, before that, when he was nothing but heart. His father had carried him just so, caressing him and saying what a fine piece of work he was, what magnificent craftsmanship, that he was beyond anything his father had ever created before or had ever thought to create.

But as the boy had gained limbs and torso and jaw, he had grown too heavy for his father to carry. Since then, no one had even tried to pick him up. The closest anyone had come was Time, who had dragged him mercilessly away from the dust of everything he had ever known. She had not found him heavy—but then, to Time, 583 pounds is no weightier than 5.83.

"Five hundred eighty-three," mused Vamazz. "You and natural bristle paintbrushes. Both making messes." He had to stop grumbling after that—"I beg your pardon, I was not grumbling"—in order to navigate the egress from the Wasteland of Writer's Block. This egress, different every time, today involved pushing through a screaming, shouting, singing, shushing crowd of every-colored dots. That is to say that every dot was every color at once, not that every dot was a different color. They were quite painful to look at, if your eyes weren't meant to simultaneously see pumpkin and purple and puce, green and gold and goose, red and rose and roost. Vamazz's weren't, and his eyes blazed with turquoise light, but he didn't pause. Rather, he stuck out his elbows and pushed and shoved and forced his way through the dots and onto the high-stimulating train that awaited them: the Reorient Express.

By secret ways known only to the most dauntless diviners, Vamazz found a pair of empty seats on the packed train and plopped the Clockmaker down next to him.

The Clockmaker regarded him with vamazement. During their journey out of the Wasteland, he had been able to see nothing of his rescuer save masses of sapphire hair, a burnt-orange-and-blue robe, a frilly white shirt, and a hint of amethyst choker. He now observed that the masses of blue hair sprouted from the wonderful wizard's head in the usual manner, matched by extravagant eyelashes and rather thin high-arched brows.

Beyond that, his rescuer looked almost Perpetuan, or the caricature of one. The visible skin of his ivory face was, perhaps, unusually smooth, and the shape of his head unusually diamond. His wide lips were thin, his nose soft rather than razor. His shoulders spread very broad and were made broader still by blue pauldrons twice the size of his head and nearly the same color as his hair. Chains descended from these and wrapped around his waist as a belt. He'd removed his tall, triangular hat and put it on his feet, but the Clockmaker saw that it too was much the color of his hair and drooping with chains that ended in little flames. From his back gushed sparks of blue and burnt-orange flames that might have spread into wings at any moment. No heat rushed from them, however, and the fuzzy-clothed seats of the train remained unsinged.

Then the Clockmaker met Vamazz's eyes, intense under the thin brows, and knew this man could not be a Perpetuan, for he had a turquoise mind.

MEN WITH TURQUOISE MINDS: Since the—

"Do you know what that means?" Vamazz interrupted.

"Sir?"

"Or who I am?"

The Clockmaker shook his head, ashamed at his ignorance.

"I," said Vamazz, "am Vamazz the Vamazing, superior sorcerer, excellent enchanter, awesome augurer, mediocre magician, dauntless diviner, nervy necromancer, thupreme thaumaturge, and—well, a whole lot of other titles that I can see wouldn't mean anything to you. I am also your rescuer."

"Oh," said the Clockmaker, attempting to digest this and feeling compelled to respond in kind. "I am the Clockmaker. My father, the Clockmaker, created me and sent me here to get an imagination. I have been collecting pieces of imagination for one year, two months, three weeks, four days, five hours, and six-and-a-half minutes, but Imaginarium is so big I do not know how I will ever finish. And I lost my anvil box, so I have only this one, which is already full." He unlocked his gut to show Vamazz the iron box within.

Without asking—astonishing alchemists don't ask—Vamazz took the iron box, opened it—and, exclaiming, slammed it shut again.

"What is it?" the Clockmaker asked in alarm, craning his neck.

Vamazz muttered a few words that might have been mystical or might have been merely vulgar, reopened the iron box, and showed him the fleshy soup of Despair floating with a few bloody chunks of dissolving matter.

"I do not understand," the Clockmaker said.

"I do," said Vamazz, and demonstrated his astonishing powers once again by reaching over the Clockmaker and sliding up the train window on the first attempt. Flipping the box shut with one hand, he hurled it outside.

The Clockmaker gave a cry of distress and made to push past Vamazz, presumably to jump off the train in pursuit of his box, but the superior sorcerer stopped him with one hand and, with the other, handed him an empty box.

It was the same box. The Clockmaker examined it under his strongest magnifying lens and recognized every swirl of his father's style. Only, this box looked either perfectly restored or newly made, as if Time had never worn it and Despair never soiled it.

The Clockmaker clutched the box to his chest, heart overflowing. Gone was Despair, yes, but gone also were Hypotheses, Extrapolations, Empathies, Self-Awarenesses, Creations, Inspirations, and all the rest. Nothing inhabited the box except air, and that which rode in on air's molecules.

Empty, the Clockmaker found himself left with nothing but the memory and love he'd had all along. The lust for more and more imagination, which had driven him these past months, fell pale and ghastly in its death throes and twitched once before stilling forever.

Though unable to weep, the Clockmaker curled upon himself and shook; and though not seeing tears, Vamazz wrapped his arms around him and waited.

Oblivious to everything else, the Clockmaker poured out his life story to Vamazz. Not his life story as a narrator might have told it, full of adventure and alliteration and elaborate description, but a life of love and relationships and simple moments. "And now I have failed him his last request," he gasped. "If only I had contented myself to a single hydrangea—a single brick—I might have done what he asked!"

"My dear boy," said Vamazz, "you don't know what you're talking about. I've been following your path of destruction throughout the land, with the intention of telling you off—that's how I found you—and you've been collecting everything except what you came for. Muck and nonsense! Besides, you haven't failed because you haven't yet left Imaginarium. We haven't even switched from the orange line! Come with me."

Vamazz stood, sapphire hair brushing the train lights and sparking alarmingly. Since the Clockmaker had last been in a state to observe, the every-colored dots had alighted off the train and small translucent lizards, naked except for green ties and indigo briefcases, had alighted on. These lizards studiously avoided the majestic magus's gaze, for they were train dragons, and all train dragons know that they make excellent fried snacks.

Beyond the passengers, the train looked not unlike the tram the Clockmaker had ridden in the Antechamber, save that it was rather cleaner and had blue cloth seats instead of beige plastic.

The Reorient Express blew a brief hail to Vamazz as it slowed to a complete stop. It sighed with relief as its doors slid open and the travelers minded the gap on the way out—and sighed with even more relief as it sped on immediately lest the nervy necromancer think to climb back on. Train dragons weren't the only ones who tasted good deep-fried.

The Clockmaker took in his new surroundings with dismay. He and Vamazz stood on a narrow patch of weedy grass in a quagmire of burping, farting, nose-blowing swamp. "Why are we here?" he asked.

"Oh, no you don't," Vamazz told the Stench firmly. "Go find someone else to bother. Hmm?" He returned his attention to the Clockmaker. "Ah! Your box, boy. Fill it here."

The Clockmaker clutched his gut closed.

Vamazz rolled his eyes. "This stuff is the Stuff of Imagination!" he explained. "Raw imagination, capable of growing into anything. Everything you've seen or made in Imaginarium was once what you see before you here. What you want isn't the prepackaged garbage you've been playing around with; it's primordial ooze. True, ooze takes longer and more effort to develop, but you'll end up with a higher-quality product and one ideally personalized to you. You could have spent a lifetime collecting plants and bones and never had enough, but a drop of this is plenty—let alone an entire box. Go on, fill it up. But this time, leave space for Hope."

The Clockmaker considered. He no longer had Extrapolations or Hypotheses to help him, but nor did he have Suspicions, and his gyroscopic heart naturally spun with purity and trust. He therefore knelt on the island, opened the box, and scooped it two-thirds full of ooze. Being the meticulous man he was, he then spent half an hour polishing the outside of the box clean with grass and Vamazz's proffered handkerchief before returning the box to his gut.

"I do not feel any different," he observed, standing up. "Although I now realize that I have permitted myself to become abominably filthy."

"The process will be slower than using prepackaged imagination," Vamazz said, "and more organic. You will feel the difference in time. Well?"

"Well what?"

"Well, where do you want to go next? What do you want to do?"

The Clockmaker frowned and tocked his head. Slime sloshed in his gut box. "I do not know," he said slowly. "I have accomplished everything I have been told to do."

"In that case," said Vamazz, "you need to learn how to think for yourself." Without asking for affirmation, he held out his hand and tilted it sharply, crying, "Votican! Blibble! Hop! Vamazz!"

The Clockmaker disappeared in a flare of turquoise light and a gentle fwoop. When the Stench swiggled up to investigate, it found only Vamazz remaining.

The superior sorcerer shook his head. He heightened his hands, presumably to proclaim magical proclamations, then paused pointedly as the awareness of witnesses worried his magnificent mane. "Do you mind?" he asked.

~0~0~0~0~0~

A/N: If you're enjoying this book, please review! I read all reviews and really appreciate them. :)

Author's Note: I am Deborah J. Natelson. In addition to being here, this book is available on Amazon. Don't worry, it's self-published, so I own the rights. I just wanted to share more places! The text is the same here and in the paperback and official ebook (no DRM), although they are also illustrated and elegantly formatted. You can also find me at deborahjnatelson dot com.