It was very cold out. It was very cold in, too, since the power was out, so my heater was useless. I was staying in a cabin in the mountains, and I’d never used the fireplace—the bookshelf was above it, and I didn’t want them to be hurt by the smoke—but I had to have some heat source. The roads were iced over, so I wasn’t going to go all the way to town to buy wood or a battery operated heater or anything, so I bundled up, went outside, and gathered as much firewood as I could. I didn’t chop down trees or anything, just picked up whatever branches were on the ground.
They were mostly a bit wet, so it was hard to start a fire, but I eventually managed to get the wood to burn. Pretty soon, the room was comfortably warm, and I sat on the couch in front of the fire with a nice warm cup of cocoa. The wind was howling outside, by I was warm and cozy.
Suddenly, a gust of wind shook the cabin. My sketchbook, every page but the last filled with my drawings, tumbled off the shelf and straight into the fire. “No!” I cried, leaping for it. I reached into the fire and managed to grab the sketchbook.
I realized what I’d done and jerked my hands out of the fire. I dropped the book on the hearth, but my left hand felt as if something in the fire was grabbing it. It must be caught on something, I thought, terrified at the prospect of such major burns. I didn’t feel any pain, or even any more heat than was comfortable. It must be a really bad burn, the kind where it’s so numb you can’t even feel it, I panicked as I tried with all my strength to break free. Slowly, difficultly I managed to draw my hand out of the fire.
Something else, or someone else, came with it.
It, or rather, he, was a man, about my age. He was well dressed and had rumpled black hair. I will admit he was rather handsome, but not as quickly as he would. I felt rather faint. Not, I quickly add, at his looks, but at the fact that I had just pulled him out of my fire. I had no idea how to react. I was scared, and curious, and disbelieving, and I couldn’t even begin to know what to say. I’m afraid I merely stared at him, openmouthed.
He looked around the room, giving me as much attention as the furnishings, then started for the door.
“Wait,” I called after him. “Where are you going?”
“Where?” I asked incredulously.
He looked at me scornfully. “Even a backwoods peasant knows of the capital city of the great empire.”
“You’re insane,” I started to tell him. Then I remembered I’d pulled him through my fire, and after that, him being from some unknown empire was almost to be expected. “You do know you’re in America?”
He looked at me with puzzlement. “And where is America, in relationship to Elizhebinbab?”
“Um, I don’t think there is any relation. America’s a country, and I’ve never heard of Eizh… that place. But I pulled you out of my fire, are you sure you’re in the same…” I hesitated, because it sounded like something out of a fantasy book, but then, so did the rest, so I finished, “world?”
He shook his head slowly. “I should have known he wouldn’t make it that easy.”
“Who? What happened?”
He sighed, and fiddled with his hair. “I’m in the business of acquisitions. Unpaid acquisitions. My name is Aleoz of Phiqueom, you may have heard of me, except that seeing as you’re from another world you probably haven’t. I tried to, erm, acquire—”
“Steal,” I interrupted.
“If you want to put it that way, yes. I tried to steal something from a certain sorcerer. I’m very good at what I do, you know. It’s not as if I can’t detect wards; I disarmed or avoided plenty of them, but this one was subtler than the rest. Just as I was fiddling with the lock on his treasury, there was a blinding flash of light, and I was a log. Though I admit my father often said I was a log, when I was a boy, but I never thought to be a literal piece of wood. Next thing I knew, you were pulling me out of the fire.”
“How do you get back?”
“I suppose I’d have to go through a portal.”
“That’s not so complicated to do. Normally you’d put one in a clump of very thick magic, but I suppose a fire would do.
We built up the fire as high as possible. Aleoz stood in front of it, waved his arms in complex patterns, and said a strange word, and suddenly a shimmery rectangle stood in the middle of the fire.
“It will only stay open for a few seconds, so I must leave immediately. It was a pleasure to meet you, miss,” he said with a small bow, then stepped through the rectangle was vanished.
It began to close, the two edges of the rectangle drawing in towards the center, and before I could think what I was doing, I grabbed my sketchbook and dashed through as if I were getting on a subway at the last moment.
I don’t know why I did it. I guess it was mostly that this was the most interesting thing that had ever happened to me, and I didn’t want it to be over so soon. And maybe I somehow knew that I belonged in that world.
I was standing in the middle of a beautiful green meadow, full of wildflowers. Butterflies flew around, and I saw a faery riding on one. The air was warm, and I thought it was probably late summer here. Aleoz was standing a few feet in front of me.
“What are you doing here?” he asked.
“I… I guess I just wanted to see this place.”
“Well, I’d be happy to show you around.”
I stayed in that world. I don’t mean I’ve never been back, because as Aleoz said, portals are easy to make. I could travel between the worlds as easily as going from one room to the next, and I took full advantage of it. But I loved living in a world of magic, and eventually, I realized that I loved Aleoz as well. So I made that world my permanent home, and though I still go back to the land I was born in often, this is my home now.